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Context of '1998-2001: Pakistani ISI Allegedly Protects Al-Qaeda Leader Zubaida from Capture'

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By 1997, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living in Peshawar, Pakistan, near the border to Afghanistan. He runs an al-Qaeda guest house there called the House of Martyrs, where all foreign recruits are interviewed before being sent to Afghanistan. As a result, Zubaida soon knows the names of thousands of al-Qaeda recruits. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 224-225] In 2006, author Gerald Posner will write that beginning in 1998, Pakistan receives several requests from US intelligence to track down Zubaida. Beginning by October 1998, the US and other countries have been monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls (see October 1998 and After), and will continue to do so through the 9/11 attacks (see Early September 2001 and October 8, 2001). But according to Posner, “Pakistan’s agency, the ISI, had claimed to have made several failed attempts, but few in the US believe they did more before September 11 than file away the request and possibly at times even warn Zubaida of the Americans’ interest.” [Posner, 2003, pp. 184] In 2008, Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will repeat the gist of Posner’s allegations, and further explain that Zubaida directly worked with the ISI. Some of the militants he directs to al-Qaeda camps are militants sent by the ISI to fight in Kashmir, a region disputed between India and Pakistan. Presumably, handing Zubaida to the US could hinder Pakistan’s covert war against India in Kashmir. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 224-225] After Zubaida is arrested in 2002, he allegedly will divulge that he has personal contacts with high-ranking officials in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (see Early April 2002).

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write that after the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), surveillance of al-Qaeda is stepped up around the world. “One intelligence officer attached to the French embassy in Islamabad, [Pakistan], urged his counterparts in foreign missions in Pakistan to detail the recipients of phone calls made by… al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, then living in Peshawar, to individuals in their various countries.” As a result, “several governments [launch] investigations of their own.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] A close associate of Zubaida in Peshawar at this time is Khalil Deek, who is actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see 1998-December 11, 1999). One such investigation is launched by the Philippine government on October 16, 1998, after being asked by French intelligence to gather intelligence on people in the Philippines in contact with Zubaida. Code named CoPlan Pink Poppy, the investigation reveals connections between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group. On December 16, 1999, Abdesselem Boulanouar and Zoheir Djalili, two French Algerians belonging to the Algerian al-Qaeda affiliate the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), are arrested due to information learned from monitoring Zubaida’s calls to the Philippines. Boulanouar is arrested at an airport carrying a terrorist training manual he admitted writing for the MILF. Both men also are arrested carrying explosive devices. French intelligence says Boulanouar had ties to Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), and like Ressam, may have been planning to carry out attacks at the turn of the millennium. He will be deported to France and imprisoned on terrorism related charges. CoPlan Pink Poppy will be canceled in 2000 for lack of funds. [Gulf News, 3/14/2000; Ressa, 2003, pp. 132-133; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] However, while details are murky, it appears other governments continue to monitor Zubaida’s calls. Around the same time as the Philippines arrests, one militant in Jordan is even arrested while still in the middle of a phone call to Zubaida (see November 30, 1999). US intelligence will remain intensely focused on Zubaida before 9/11 (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001), and just days before 9/11 the NSA will monitor calls Zubaida is making to the US (see Early September 2001). It appears his calls will continue to be monitored after 9/11 as well (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Zoheir Djalili, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdesselem Boulanouar, Philippines, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Karl Inderfurth.Karl Inderfurth. [Source: Harikrishna Katragadda Mint]Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, accompanied by State Department counterterrorism expert Michael Sheehan, visits Pakistan, shortly after Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Inderfurth meets with Musharraf, and is disappointed with Musharraf’s reluctance to take any action against al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living openly in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, and the previous month was implicated in an attempted bomb plot in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). A number of intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s communications (see October 1998 and After), and one of his top aides, Khalil Deek, appears to be a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). There are allegations that the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been protecting Zubaida (see 1998-2001). Musharraf indicates to Inderfurth that he is unwilling to act on US intelligence about Zubaida. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam will later say: “The Pakistanis told us they could not find him, even though everyone knew where he was. The ISI just turned a blind eye to his activities.” In fact, there is evidence Zubaida was working with the ISI, helping them vet and train militants to later fight in the disputed region of Kashmir (see 1998-2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] Musharraf also tells Inderfurth that he is unwilling to support any program to capture Osama bin Laden, as his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, had been willing to do (see October 1999). And asked to pressure the Taliban, Musharraf sends ISI Director Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mahmood is well known to be a supporter of the Taliban, so his visit is considered an empty gesture. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] Robert Einhorn, a specialist on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Clinton administration, does not go on the trip. Inderfurth will later say Einhorn’s absence showed a lack of interest by the administration in non-proliferation: “The fact that Mike [Sheehan] was included and Bob left out showed our priorities at that time. Our agenda was counterterrorism, al-Qaeda, and democracy. We had somehow divorced these from the nuclear threat and A. Q. Khan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Robert Einhorn, Pervez Musharraf, Michael Sheehan, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Karl Inderfurth, Mahmood Ahmed, Khalil Deek, William Milam

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

The NSA intercepts “multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden’s chief of operations, to the United States.” The timing and information contained in these intercepted phone calls has not been disclosed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In 2007, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will comment that “apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] US intelligence had just been warned about a week earlier that Zubaida may be planning an attack on the US (see August 24, 2001). Zubaida’s exact position within al-Qaeda is disputed; he will be captured in 2002 (see March 28, 2002). It appears that a number of Western intelligence agencies were monitoring Zubaida’s calls since at least late 1998 (see October 1998 and After), and continue monitoring his calls in the weeks after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert Baer, Abu Zubaida, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo.Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo. [Source: US Defense Department]US intelligence intercepts numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Bensayah Belkacem, an operative living in Bosnia. The New York Times will later report that shortly after 9/11, “American intelligence agencies, working closely with the government of neighboring Croatia, listened in as Mr. Belkacem and others discussed plans for attacks.” One US official says, “He was apparently on the phone constantly to Afghanistan, with Zubaida and others. There were dozens of calls to Afghanistan.” Belkacem, an Algerian, had moved to Bosnia to fight in the early 1990s war there, then obtained Bosnian citizenship and settled in Zenica, working for an Islamic charity. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police detain Belkacem. While searching his home, they find a piece of note listing the name “Abu Zubeida” and Zubaida’s phone number. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006] It is later revealed that Belkacem made 70 calls to Zubaida between 9/11 and his arrest and more calls before then. He had repeatedly sought a visa to leave Bosnia for Germany just before 9/11. Phone transcripts show Zubaida and Belkacem discussed procuring passports. [Time, 11/12/2001] A US official will later claim that it was believed Zubaida was in Afghanistan with bin Laden at the time of Belkacem’s arrest. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] It has not been explained why this knowledge was not used to capture or kill Zubaida and/or bin Laden. It appears that Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Zubaida’s calls as far back as 1996 (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After). Belkacem and five of his associates will be renditioned to Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and remain imprisoned there (see January 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Bensayah Belkacem, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prince Ahmed bin Salman.Prince Ahmed bin Salman. [Source: Thoroughbred Corp.]Author Gerald Posner, controversial for his books dismissing JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories, will claim that a remarkable interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoner Abu Zubaida begins at this time. Zubaida, arrested three days earlier (see March 28, 2002), is flown to a US Special Forces compound outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, he is tricked into thinking the US has handed him to the Saudis for a more brutal interrogation, but in fact “the Saudis” are still American agents. Zubaida expresses great relief at this and, under the influence of the “truth serum” sodium pentothal, tells his interrogators to call Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a nephew of the Saudi king. He provides telephone numbers from memory and says, “He will tell you what to do.” He proceeds to give more information and phone numbers, claiming ties with higher-ups in both the Saudi and Pakistani governments. He also names:
bullet Pakistani Air Force chief Mushaf Ali Mir, who is said to be closely tied to the fundamentalists in the ISI.
bullet Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal.
bullet Prince Sultan bin Faisal, another nephew of the Saudi King.
bullet Prince Fahd bin Turki, another member of the Saudi royalty.
9/11 'Rosetta Stone?' - According to Posner, Zubaida claims that all of these people were intermediaries he dealt with in the frequent transfer of money to al-Qaeda. The phone numbers and other details he provides are consistent with information already known by US intelligence. Zubaida then lays out many secrets about the 9/11 attacks. One unnamed investigator will later call them “the Rosetta Stone” of 9/11. According to Zubaida, he was present in a meeting in 1996 where the Pakistanis and the Saudis struck a deal with Osama bin Laden (see 1996), promising him protection, arms, and supplies in exchange for not being the targets of future terror attacks. He claims both governments were told the US would be attacked on 9/11, but not given the details of how the attack would work. Within months, all of the people named by Zubaida will die mysteriously except for Prince Turki, who is made an ambassador, giving him diplomatic immunity. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186-94]
Zubaida Sent to Thailand - Shortly after his stint in Afghanistan, Zubaida is sent to a secret detention facility in Thailand, where he is subjected to extensive torture and abuse (see April - June 2002).
Questionable Sourcing - Posner will say he learned of this story from two unnamed US government sources who gave similar, independent accounts. One is from the CIA and the other is a senior Bush administration official “inside the executive branch.” [Salon, 10/18/2003] With the notable exception of a prominent Time magazine article [Time, 8/31/2003] , few news outlets will cover the story [MSNBC, 9/5/2003; Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003] , and some that cover it only do so in the form of book reviews. [Washington Post, 9/10/2003; New York Times, 10/12/2003; New York Times, 10/29/2003] Some experts will put forth the theory that the story could have been made up by neoconservatives interested in starting a war with Saudi Arabia. It is also possible Zubaida mixed facts with lies, as he will be found to have lied to interrogators on many other occasions. [Salon, 10/18/2003] There will also be speculation that the gist of the story may be true, but that Zubaida’s Saudi and Pakistani contacts may have been pinned on dead men to protect the actual guilty parties. [Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003]
Later Confirmation from US Government Officials - New York Times reporter James Risen will essentially repeat and confirm Posner’s account in his 2006 book State of War. He will add, “In addition to the incidents described by Posner, a senior former American government official said that the United States has obtained other evidence that suggests connections between al-Qaeda operatives and telephone numbers associated with Saudi officials.” Risen further points out, “There is no evidence that a thorough examination of [Zubaida’s] claims of ties to powerful Saudis was ever conducted.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 187] Also, in 2005, the New York Times will report that Michael Chertoff, who is currently a Justice Department official, advised the CIA about which interrogation techniques they could use on Abu Zubaida and others, and allowed the use of trickery to make the detainee believe “he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country” (see 2002-2003).

Entity Tags: Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, Al-Qaeda, Mushaf Ali Mir, Turki al-Faisal, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed bin Salman, Sultan bin Faisal

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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