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Profile: Abdul Salam Zaeef

Positions that Abdul Salam Zaeef has held:

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Abdul Salam Zaeef was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Taliban hold a three-day drill camp for Islamist militants in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to Radio Free Europe. Attendees are said to come from several countries. The camp is held “under the patronage of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef,” who is the Taliban’s official ambassador to Pakistan at the time. (Choksy and Choksy 5/6/2011) While militant camps actually in Abbottabad are apparently uncommon, there are many such camps in the Manshera area about 35 miles away that have been there since the 1990s and will still be there in 2011 (see May 22, 2011). It is unclear when US intelligence first becomes aware of militant activity in the Abbottabad area. In 2011, a US strike force will enter Osama bin Laden’s compound near Abottabad and kill him (see May 2, 2011).

Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Representative Porter Goss (R-FL), and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) travel to Pakistan and meet with President Pervez Musharraf. They reportedly discuss various security issues, including the possible extradition of bin Laden. They also meet with Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef apparently tells them that the Taliban wants to solve the issue of bin Laden through negotiations with the US. Pakistan says it wants to stay out of the bin Laden issue. (Agence France-Presse 8/28/2001; Tapper 9/14/2001)

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, is approached by his US counterpart and warned that Osama bin Laden is planning an attack on the US. According to Zaeef’s 2010 memoir, at some point before 9/11 Zaeef is contacted by William Milam, the US ambassador to Pakistan, who “unexpectedly asked for an appointment that very same day. (The Americans occasionally got agitated over small things.)” Milam insists on the meeting, although Zaeef is tired, and comes to visit him at his home, accompanied by Paula Thedi, political affairs officer to the US ambassador in Pakistan. According to Zaeef’s book, Milam “seemed worried and impatient and started to talk as soon as he entered the room.” He tells Zaeef: “Our intelligence reports reveal that Osama is planning a major attack on America. This is why we had to come immediately at such a late hour. You need to tell officials in Afghanistan to prevent the attacks!” Zaeef will write that he immediately forwards the ambassador’s concerns to Kabul, and Kabul responds 23 hours later with a letter that states: “Afghanistan has no intention to harm the United States of America now or in the future. We do not condone attacks of any kind against America and prevent anyone from using Afghan soil to plan or train for any such attacks.” Zaeef will say he personally translates this statement from Pashtu and passes it to the American ambassador. Immediately after 9/11, Zaeef will issue a similar statement to the media on Kabul’s stance, which says: “We strongly condemn the events that happened in the United States at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We share the grief of all those who have lost their nearest and dearest in these incidents. All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice, and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions.” Zaeef will be detained after the US invasion of Afghanistan and held for several years, including a spell in Guantanamo, before his release without charge. (Zaeef 1/20/2010, pp. 138)

Immediately after 9/11, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, issues a statement to the media about the attacks. “We strongly condemn the events that happened in the United States at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” it reads. “We share the grief of all those who have lost their nearest and dearest in these incidents. All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice, and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions.” (Zaeef 1/20/2010, pp. 144)

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef.Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban says that Osama bin Laden has told them he played no role in the September 11 attacks on the United States. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, tells Reuters, “We asked from him, [and] he told [us] we don’t have any hand in this action.” (Reuters 9/13/2001) Zaeef says bin Laden has been cut off from all outside communication, including telephone and the Internet, and so it would have been impossible for him to have coordinated the attacks. (Reuters 9/13/2001; Watson, Drogin, and Marshall 9/15/2001) Zaeef says the Taliban is willing to cooperate with the US in investigating the 9/11 attacks, stating, “We are ready for any help according to [Islamic] Sharia law.” But he stresses that if America has any evidence against bin Laden, it should provide it to the Taliban, which has sheltered him as a “guest.” (Reuters 9/13/2001)

An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” (Salahuddin 1/22/2009)


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