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Profile: Baitullah Mahsud
a.k.a. Baitullah Mehsud
Baitullah Mahsud was a participant or observer in the following events:
A meeting of tribesmen in Wana, South Waziristan, May 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir]The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. [Asia Times, 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 433] Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. [New York Times, 7/25/2007] The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. [Washington Post, 1/18/2008]
Baitullah Mahsud. [Source: Associated Press]On August 30, 2007, Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mahsud surround a convoy of more than 270 soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. The militants are vastly outnumbered, but get the soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. In the following days, dozens more soldiers surrender or even desert to Mahsud. This is a humiliating debacle for the Pakistani army and a reflection of low morale. The Washington Post comments: “The troops’ surrender has called into question the army’s commitment to fighting an unpopular war that requires Pakistanis to kill their countrymen. It has also exposed the army to ridicule.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007] Mahsud demands the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan, the tribal region where Mahsud is the de facto ruler. After weeks of slow negotiations, he orders the beheading of three of his hostages. On November 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declares a state of emergency throughout Pakistan (see November 3-December 15, 2007). Musharraf claims that his emergency powers will give him a stronger hand to fight militants like Mahsud, but the next day he releases 28 jailed militants in return for the release of the nearly 300 soldiers still held. Eight of the released militants are would-be suicide bombers. For instance, one of them had just been sentenced to 24 years in prison after being caught carrying two suicide belts. The incident propels Mahsud into becoming the figurehead of Pakistan’s militant movement, and from this time on many violent incidents are blamed on him, although his forces are probably not linked to them all. Mahsud had strong ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He fought with the Taliban in the 1990s and helped al-Qaeda leaders escape the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. [Washington Post, 10/3/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 385-388; Newsweek, 1/7/2008]
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gives an interview to David Frost of Al Jazeera in which she makes a number of noteworthy statements:
She says that Saeed Sheikh is “the man who murdered Osama bin Laden.” Saeed helped kidnap Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was later murdered (see January 23, 2002), is said to have provided money for the 9/11 hijackings (see Early August 2001), and is thought to have been in prison in Pakistan since 2002 (see February 12, 2002). Although bin Laden is thought to be alive at this time (see October 22, 2007), Frost does not ask a follow-up question about bin Laden’s alleged demise. [Al Jazeera, 11/2/2007] When a video of the interview is posted at the BBC’s website, this section is initially edited out, as the editor thinks Bhutto must simply have misspoken. However, the BBC accepts this was an error and later posts a full version of the interview. [BBC, 4/1/2008] This is the only known occasion that Bhutto makes this claim.
Based on information from a “friendly country,” she names four people and/or organizations that might attack her: al-Qaeda linked warlord Baitullah Mahsud; Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama; the “Pakistan Taliban in Islamabad”; and an unnamed group in Karachi.
While she thinks that such groups may be used for an attack on her, they are not pulling the strings, she says. She suggests three people may be behind an attack by one of the groups. The reason these three are said to want her dead is because she could stop the rise of terrorism in Pakistan. One of the three is former ISI officer Ijaz Shah, a “very key figure in security,” who she thinks has turned a blind eye or even colluded with militants, and who is an associate of Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002). [Al Jazeera, 11/2/2007] Shah, a government official, will actually be in charge of protecting Bhutto from assassination when she is assassinated. The names of the other two said to be “pulling the strings” are not certain, but they are a prominent Pakistani figure, one of whose family members was allegedly murdered by a militant group run by Bhutto’s brother, and a well-known chief minister in Pakistan who is a longstanding opponent of Bhutto. [Daily Mail, 12/30/2007]
Maulana Fazlullah. [Source: NBC News]In mid-December 2007, 40 militant commanders in Pakistan’s tribal region and the North-West Frontier Province hold a secret meeting and unify their forces. They create a new umbrella organization called Tehrik-i-Taliban, meaning Movement of the Taliban. They are also known as the Pakistani Taliban. They appoint Baitullah Mahsud, head of militant forces in South Waziristan, as their overall leader. Mahsud became a key figure after his forces successfully kidnapped almost 300 Pakistani soldiers and then traded them for about 30 imprisoned militants (see August 30-November 4, 2007). Other key leaders attending the meeting are: Maulana Fazlullah, militant leader in the Swat Valley, Faqir Mohammed, leader in the tribal region of Bajour, and Sadiq Noor, leader in North Waziristan. Together, these commanders at the meeting are estimated to lead about forty thousand armed followers. The leaders are closely tied to the Taliban, as the name of the new organization indicates, and many are also linked to al-Qaeda. Mahsud in particular is believed to be in regular contact with al-Qaeda leaders, and looking to them for strategic direction. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 386]
A group of suspected suicide bombers are arrested in Barcelona, Spain. Twelve are Pakistani and two are Indian, and all of them had trained at militant camps in Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where al-Qaeda has a safe haven. One of the suspected suicide bombers is actually an informant for French intelligence, known by the name Asim (see Late January 2008). Having just arrived in Barcelona from the safe haven several days before, Asim mistakenly believes that an attack is imminent. But in the rush to quickly arrest the suspects, at least six of them get away, with one supposedly taking most of the explosives with him. Spain’s leading counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon says, “In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe. Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here.” Asim claims the suspects were going to start with an attack in Barcelona, which was going to be followed by demands from al-Qaeda through Baitullah Mahsud, a militant leader in Waziristan. If their demands were not met, they would stage more attacks in Spain and then in other European countries. US officials say they monitored phone calls to Pakistan by some of the suspects. Some suspects were already under surveillance by Spanish intelligence. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. [Reuters, 12/7/2008; Hindu, 12/9/2008]
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). [Reuters, 12/7/2008] Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. [Reuters, 12/7/2008] The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
A US drone attacks a target in Pakistan that the CIA believes is Hakimullah Mahsud, a lieutenant of Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. However, it kills 10 to 12 of his followers instead. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
CIA-controlled drones attack a funeral in Makeen, a town in South Warizistan, Pakistan, that is home to Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. Deaths number in the dozens, possibly as many as 86, and an account in the Pakistani News says they include 10 children and four tribal elders. The funeral is for two locals killed by CIA drones earlier in the day (see June 23, 2009), and is attacked because of intelligence Mahsud would be present. One eyewitness, who loses his right leg during the bombing, tells Agence France-Presse that the mourners suspected what was coming, saying, “After the prayers ended, people were asking each other to leave the area, as drones were hovering.” Before the mourners could clear out, the eyewitness says, two drones start firing into the crowd. “It created havoc,” he says. “There was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help.” Then a third missile hits. Sections of Pakistani society express their unhappiness with the attack. For example, an editorial in The News denounces the strike as sinking to the level of the terrorists, and the Urdu newspaper Jang declares that US President Barack Obama is “shutting his ears to the screams of thousands of women whom your drones have turned into dust.” Many in Pakistan are also upset that the Pakistani government gave approval for the US to strike a funeral. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A CIA-controlled Predator drone kills Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud in the hamlet of Zanghara, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Prior to the attack, officials at CIA headquarters watched a live video feed from the drone showing Mahsud reclining on the rooftop of his father-in-law’s house with his wife and his uncle, a medic; at one point, the images showed that Mahsud, who suffers from diabetes and a kidney ailment, was receiving an intravenous drip. After the attack, all that remains of him is a detached torso. Eleven others die: his wife, his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, a lieutenant, and seven bodyguards. According to a CNN report, the strike was authorized by President Obama. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik will later see the footage and comment: “It was a perfect picture. We used to see James Bond movies where he talked into his shoe or his watch. We thought it was a fairy tale. But this was fact!” According to reporter Jane Mayer: “It appears to have taken 16 missile strikes, and 14 months, before the CIA succeeded in killing [Mahsud]. During this hunt, between 207 and 321 additional people were killed, depending on which news accounts you rely upon.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).
Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
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