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Context of 'Shortly After May 2, 2005: Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Libbi Lies about Bin Laden’s Trusted Courier'

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Abu Faraj al-Libbi.Abu Faraj al-Libbi. [Source: FBI]In July 2003, al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi allegedly receives a letter from Osama bin Laden’s “designated courier” stating that this person will be the “official messenger” between bin Laden and others in Pakistan. Around the same time, al-Libbi moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan. Al-Libbi had become al-Qaeda’s head of operations following the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in March 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). This is according to one of al-Libbi’s Guantanamo prison files, from September 2008. In the file, the courier is named as Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan. [US Department of Defense, 9/10/2008]
Al-Libbi Leads to Bin Laden's Courier - Other sources make clear that this information comes from al-Libbi’s 2005 interrogation (see Shortly After May 2, 2005). By late 2005, US intelligence analysts will decide that al-Libbi was lying, and he had made up the name of Jan to protect the real courier, whose real name will eventually be discovered to be Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (see Late 2005). In fact, Ahmed moves to Abbottabad in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005) and bin Laden joins him there in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006).
Al-Libbi Moves Away - Al-Libbi moves away from Abbottabad in mid-2004. Perhaps this is in response to two Pakistani government raids that narrowly miss catching him (see April 2004 and After April 2004). [US Department of Defense, 9/10/2008]
Musharraf's 2006 Book - In a 2006 book, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will detail the two raids that narrowly miss him, and adds that al-Libbi revealed in a 2005 interrogation “that he was in contact with Osama through a courier and the last letter he had received from Osama was sometime in December 2004. We have been looking for the couriers intensely.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 172] Presumably, al-Libbi’s confession about living in Abbottabad and meeting the courier would help point US investigators looking for the courier to Abbottabad, and if not that, Musharraf’s 2006 book would do so. But it is unknown when US intelligence begins closely investigating al-Qaeda activity in Abbottabad.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Abu Faraj al-Libbi.Abu Faraj al-Libbi. [Source: Pakistani Interior Ministry]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi is arrested in Mardan, Pakistan, near the town of Peshawar. He is captured by Pakistani forces with US assistance. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will later claim that he doesn’t even tell the US about al-Libbi’s capture until a few days after it happened (and the first media account comes out three days later), so apparently Pakistan interrogates him on their own for a few days. Al-Libbi is that turned over to the US and detained in a secret CIA prison (see September 2-3, 2006). [New York Times, 5/5/2005; Musharraf, 2006, pp. 209]
Some Call Al-Libbi High-Ranking Leader - In 2004, the Daily Telegraph claimed al-Libbi was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s “right hand man” and helped him plan the 9/11 attacks. After Mohammed was arrested in early 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), Al-Libbi allegedly took his place and became the third in command of al-Qaeda and the group’s operational leader. Furthermore, the Telegraph claims he was once Osama bin Laden’s personal assistant, helped plan two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003), and has been in contact with sleeper cells in the US and Britain. [Daily Telegraph, 9/19/2004] The same month, MSNBC made the same claims. They also called him al-Qaeda’s number three leader and operational commander. [MSNBC, 9/7/2004] President Bush hails al-Libbi’s capture as a “critical victory in the war on terror.” Bush also calls him a “top general” and “a major facilitator and chief planner for the al-Qaeda network.”
Al-Libbi Little Known to Media and Experts - But al-Libbi is little known at the time of his arrest and some experts and insiders question if he really is as important as the US claims. The London Times will report several days after his arrest, “[T]he backslapping in Washington and Islamabad has astonished European terrorism experts, who point out that the Libyan was neither on the FBI’s most wanted list, nor on that of the State Department ‘Rewards for Justice’ program.” One former close associate of Osama bin Laden now living in London laughs at al-Libbi’s supposed importance, saying, “What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.” Even a senior FBI official admits that his “influence and position have been overstated.” The Times comments, “Some believe [his] significance has been cynically hyped by two countries [the US and Pakistan] that want to distract attention from their lack of progress in capturing bin Laden, who has now been on the run for almost four years.” [London Times, 5/8/2005] However, later revelations, such as details on al-Libbi’s interrogation (see Shortly After May 2, 2005 and Late 2005), will provide more evidence that al-Libbi in fact was al-Qaeda’s operational leader. It is not known why the FBI did not have him on their most wanted list, if MSNBC and the Telegraph newspaper and other sources were already aware of his importance in 2004.

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Some time after he is captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005), al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi tells his CIA interrogators that he has never heard of Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. CIA analysts already strongly suspect that Ahmed is a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, but they only know him by his main alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
Al-Libbi's False Claims - Al-Libbi tells his interrogators that he does not know who “al-Kuwaiti” is. Instead, he admits that when 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) was captured in 2003 and al-Libbi was chosen to replace him as al-Qaeda’s operational chief, he was told the news of his selection by a courier. But he says the courier was someone named Maulawi Abd al-Kahliq Jan. CIA analysts never find anyone using this name, and eventually they will conclude that al-Libbi made it up to protect Ahmed (see Late 2005). Later, the CIA will learn Ahmed’s real name, and this fact will eventually lead to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009 and July 2010).
False Claims Made While Tortured? - The interrogation techniques used on al-Libbi are unknown. However, days after his capture, the CIA pressures the Justice Department for new legal memorandums approving the use of very brutal methods. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011; New York Times, 5/3/2011]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence analysts decide conflicting prisoner accounts about courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed must mean Ahmed is someone very important in al-Qaeda, and they increase their efforts to find out who he really is. At the time, analysts only know Ahmed by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and they have a good idea that he is a courier between al-Qaeda leaders. The most important question is if Ahmed could lead to someone like Osama bin Laden.
bullet 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) told his US interrogators that Ahmed was not important (see Autumn 2003).
bullet Al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libbi also told interrogators Ahmed was not important (see Shortly After May 2, 2005).
bullet But al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul said Ahmed was an important courier who was close to bin Laden, and that he was close to both KSM and al-Libbi also (see Shortly After January 23, 2004).
bullet Other important prisoners also gave wildly conflicting accounts on who Ahmed is.
The CIA concludes that KSM and al-Libbi are deliberately trying to deflect attention from Ahmed to keep some important secret, most likely bin Laden’s secret location. A US official aware of the CIA’s analysis will later say: “Think about circles of information—there’s an inner circle they would protect with their lives. The crown jewels of al-Qaeda were the whereabouts of bin Laden and his operational security.” [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]

Entity Tags: Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Hassan Ghul, US intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2009, US intelligence locates Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, somewhere in northwest Pakistan. This is done by remote monitoring of his cell phone calls and e-mails, after his full real name was discovered in 2007 (see 2007). His brother Abrar, who is also involved with al-Qaeda, is discovered as well. However, their exact location in Pakistan is still unknown and will not be discovered until 2010 (see July 2010). [CNN, 5/2/2011; MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Assistance from Pakistani Government - The Washington Post will later report that the Pakistani government has been secretly assisting US intelligence with data collection for a number of years. The US can collect wireless phone calls on its own in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government helps the US collect landline calls and e-mails as well. In 2009, the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, allegedly notices several suspicious calls spoken in Arabic to the Middle East. The phone number is discovered to belong to Ahmed. An unnamed US official will later say: “The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the US government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
Ahmed's General Location Discovered; Exact Locale Is Still a Mystery - However, Ahmed normally drives an hour or two before inserting the battery in his cell phone, and he frequently changes the SIM cards in his phone. As a result, US intelligence concludes he is living somewhere in northwest Pakistan, but it cannot figure out exactly where. One of these calls comes from the general vicinity of Abbottabad, where Ahmed will eventually be found to be living with Osama bin Laden (see August 1, 2010). But since other calls come from other towns, intelligence analysts cannot limit their search to just Abbottabad. [Washington Post, 5/11/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Extensive Surveillance Effort Begins - A senior Obama administration official will later say the two brothers’ “extensive operational security” keeps investigators from determining exactly where they live. “The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.” This official will add, “We couldn’t trail [Ahmed], so we had to set up an elaborate surveillance effort.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, US intelligence, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A key mistake by Osama bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) lead US intelligence to exact location of bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). US intelligence already had a good idea that Ahmed was a courier working for bin Laden, and in the summer of 2009, he used a cell phone that allowed analysts to determine he was living somewhere in northwest Pakistan (see Summer 2009). But he drove an hour or two before making his calls, and he changed the SIM cards in his phone, making it impossible to pinpoint his exact location. After a flurry of calls in the summer of 2009, he did not use his phone for nearly a year. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Phone Call Is Key Mistake - But then, around July 2010, he accepts a call that provides the key intelligence breakthrough. The call is from an unnamed old friend, but the friend’s calls are already being monitored by US intelligence for his al-Qaeda links. The friend asks Ahmed innocuous questions, like where have you been and what are you doing now. Ahmed vaguely replies, “I’m back with the people I was with before.” Bob Woodward of the Washington Post will later report, “There was a pause, as if the friend knew that [Ahmed’s] words meant he had returned to bin Laden’s inner circle, and was perhaps at the side of the al-Qaeda leader himself. The friend replied, ‘May God facilitate.’” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Exact Neighborhood Is Located - According to one account, when Ahmed takes this call, apparently he is in or near the town of Peshawar (about 120 miles from Abbottabad). He is soon spotted there, and then continually monitored. It will take several weeks before he returns to Abbottabad, and the exact location of bin Laden’s hideout there is discovered. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] According to another account, Ahmed is either inside bin Laden’s compound or very close to it when he takes the call, because the NSA is quickly able to determine the exact neighborhood where the call was received. From there, the CIA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency search aerial satellite photographs and deduce which house in the neighborhood likely belongs to bin Laden. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] Either way, apparently his hideout will be discovered by US intelligence on August 1 (see August 1, 2010).
Bin Laden's Compound Already Known to CIA? - According to the Associated Press, the CIA had already known “for years” that bin Laden’s compound was linked to al-Qaeda, but they had dismissed it as not very important since there were no security guards patrolling it. In any case, the compound is located (or relocated), and US intelligence starts to monitor it. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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