Profile: Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)
a.k.a. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jamaat-al-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat al-Dawat
Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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).
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]
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:
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]
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]
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]
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]
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).
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]
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.
The US wants al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul arrested, but the Pakistani government will not do so, apparently because he is part of a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Details and timing are vague, but US intelligence becomes increasingly interested in Ghul. He is believed to be part of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s secret network of moneymen and couriers. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, the CIA has been pressing the Pakistani government to arrest Ghul “for years.” After 9/11, Ghul hides in Lahore, Pakistan, in safe houses run by the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). This group helps many al-Qaeda operatives escape Afghanistan and hide in Pakistan after 9/11, and it even helps Zubaida escape and hide (see Late 2001-Early 2002). However, the ISI refuses to arrest Ghul. The Associated Press will report that “former CIA officers who targeted Ghul said he had ties to the Lashkar-e-Toiba terror group, which had the backing of the ISI.” Eventually, the CIA learns that Ghul plans to meet with al-Qaeda operatives fighting against US forces in Iraq. Ghul is captured in Iraq on January 23, 2004 (see January 23, 2004). However, the Pakistani government is said to be furious that Ghul has been captured, and the US is pressed to return him. The US transfers him to a secret CIA prison instead. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
In the wake of the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl and suspected ISI ties to the kidnapping plot, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is said to begin a “quiet and massive overhaul” of the ISI. However, one senior military source who once served in the ISI warns, “The biggest problem we have here are the rogue elements in the intelligence agencies, especially those who at some time became involved with the CIA.” The ISI is so used to operating independently that even honest agents may be difficult to control. Many may willfully disobey orders. “Among the more dangerous, sources say, are those who acted as Pakistan’s official liaison between the Pakistan Army and militant groups, such as the Kashmiri-oriented Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and Lashkar-e-Toiba, both of which are on the United States’ list of terrorist organizations. The ISI was also a crucial link between Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” [Christian Science Monitor, 2/22/2002] By early 2003, the Financial Times will note that Musharraf’s attempts at reforms have largely been abandoned. An expert on the region comments, “It is no longer a question of whether Pakistan is going backwards or forwards. It’s a question of how rapidly it’s going backwards.” [Financial Times, 2/8/2003]
The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]
Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb). [Source: US Defense Department]Alleged al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb) is arrested in Faisalabad, Pakistan, as part of a series of raids that also results in the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and other suspected al-Qaeda operatives (see March 28, 2002). Apparently, he is in the same house as Zubaida when both of them are arrested. Ahmed is transferred to US custody two months later, and then sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on August 5, 2002.
History of Robbery and Drug Dealing - Ahmed is an Algerian in his late 40s. In the early 1980s, he served in the Algerian army for four years. He was found guilty several times of robbery. In the early 1990s, he lived in Italy and was found guilty several times of drug dealing and robbery. From 1994 onwards he lived in Hamburg, Germany, and spent a total of two years in prison for a variety of crimes, including robbery and credit card fraud. He continued to deal illegal drugs. Eventually, he became a radical Islamist and associated with members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, although when and how this happened is unclear. (Note that in 1995, Hamburg cell member and future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was investigated for petty drug crimes (see 1995).) [US Department of Defense, 9/16/2005]
Plane Flight with Hamburg Cell Members - On September 3, 2001, Ahmed flew to Pakistan with cell member Said Bahaji, another older Algerian named Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete), and others suspected of links to the Hamburg cell. They stayed in the same hotel when they arrived in Karachi, Pakistan. Information on Ahmed’s travel was uncovered by German investigators (see September 3-5, 2001).
Training and Fighting in Afghanistan, Hiding in Pakistan - According to Ahmed’s 2008 Guantanamo file, Ahmed confesses that he, Bin Murabit, and Bahaji traveled together to the al-Faruq training camp near Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, they met Zakariya Essabar, another Hamburg cell member who had just left Germany (see Late August 2001). Ahmed and Bin Murabit stayed together and trained at a variety of locations in Afghanistan. Later in 2001, they fought against US forces near Bagram, Afghanistan. Ahmed then snuck across the Pakistan border with the help of the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, and lived in the same safe house as Zubaida and other militants for about a month before they are all captured. Apparently, Ahmed split up from Bin Murabit at some point, because Bin Murabit is not captured, and it is unclear what happens to him. [US Department of Defense, 4/23/2008] (Note that the contents of these Guantanamo files are often based on dubious sources, and sometimes on torture (see April 24, 2011).) Despite Ahmed’s links to the Hamburg cell and Zubaida, he will be transferred to Algeria on November 10, 2008. It is unknown if he is set free or imprisoned by the Algerian government. [New York Times, 4/25/2011]
A bloody victim of the Sheraton Hotel bombing. [Source: Agence France-Presse]A car bomb blows up outside the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan. A bus full of French engineers is targeted, killing seven of them as well as three Pakistanis. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 154] The attack is blamed on a new militant group, called Lashkar-e-Omar in tribute to Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is said to have been involved in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl. This group is said to have been formed from factions of other Pakistani militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Al-Qaeda is also alleged to have been involved in the attack. [New York Times, 6/15/2002]
Anonymous US officials tell the Los Angeles Times that Pakistan “has in effect replaced Afghanistan as a command-and-control center for at least some” of al-Qaeda. The group has formed or renewed alliances with local Muslim militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, who are providing safe houses and other assistance. One US intelligence official says, “They don’t operate with impunity there like they did in Afghanistan, but they have lots of supporters, and it’s easy for them to blend in.” A Justice Department official agrees, saying that al-Qaeda operatives are able to go “wherever they want” in Pakistan’s cities. “They’re hiding in plain sight.” The article says, “Al-Qaeda leaders and followers have been arrested or tracked in nearly every major Pakistani city… In some cases, US officials say, Pakistani militants and even some members of the [ISI] have openly supported al-Qaeda and have used an informal underground railroad to help fleeing terrorists.” A recently retired US counterterrorism official says, “The ISI is filled with extremists, and I don’t think they’re trying very hard to find these people. In fact, they’re actively trying to hide them.” Publicly US officials continue to support the Pakistani government due to Pakistani help with certain things, such as allowing US troops to be stationed in Pakistan. But privately they are growing increasingly worried at the lack of cooperation regarding Islamist militancy. [Los Angeles Times, 6/16/2002]
In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind will claim that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, was monitored as he attempted to fly to the US. According to Suskind, NSA surveillance discovers that Khan is coming to the US soon and has been in contact with suspect US citizens, including Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an Islamist radical living in Virginia. E-mails between Khan, Ali, and others discuss plans for various violent activities, including a desire to “blow up synagogues on the East Coast.” FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, reads the intercepts and advocates either a very intensive surveillance of Khan when he is in the US, or not letting him in at all. Officials, including Joe Billy, head of the FBI’s New York office, worry about being held responsible if Khan is allowed into the country and then manages to commit some violent act. With Khan scheduled to come to the US in one day, “top bosses in Washington” quickly decide to put him on a no-fly list. Khan does fly to the US, and is stopped and sent back to Britain. As a result, he realizes the US is onto him and presumably takes greater precautions. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 200-203]
Confusion - However, when Suskind’s book is published in June 2006, a number of articles will dispute Suskind’s claim. For instance, Newsweek will report that “several US and [British] law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials” anonymously claim that Suskind is mistaken, and is confusing Sidique Khan with another British suspect named Mohammed Ajmal Khan. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006] The Telegraph reaches the same conclusion, and points out that Ajmal Khan pleaded guilty in a British trial in March on charges of providing weapons and funds to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. During that trial, it was revealed that he made several trips to the US and met with a group of suspected militants in Virginia, including one named Ahmed Omar Abu Ali.
Stands by Story - However, Suskind will resolutely stand by his story, saying, “In my investigation and in my book and in my conversations with people in the US government, there was no mistake or doubt that we are talking about Mohammad Sidique Khan, not Mohammed Ajmal Khan.” He says he was aware of the difference between the two and suggests British officials may have been trying to push Ajmal Khan instead to cover up their failures to stop the 7/7 bombings. The two officials mentioned by name in Suskind’s account, Coleman and Billy, apparently say nothing to the press to confirm or deny the story. [Daily Telegraph, 6/22/2006]
Visit to Israel - Curiously, it will be reported shortly after the 7/7 bombings that Khan visits Israel around this time, February 19-20, 2003, and the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv will claim he is suspected of helping two Pakistani-Britons plot a suicide bombing that kills three Israelis several months later (see February 19-20, 2003). [Guardian, 7/19/2005]
Nancy Powell. [Source: US Embassy in Nepal]The US Ambassador to Pakistan Nancy Powell publicly complains that Pakistani militant groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban have reconstituted themselves. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned the groups in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002). Powell says, “These banned groups are re-establishing themselves with new names.” Several days later, Musharraf bans the groups again. Between November 15 and 20, six groups are banned, including Jamiat ul-Ansar (formerly Harkat ul-Mujahedeen) and Khuddam ul-Islam (formerly Jaish-e-Mohammed). Notably, Jamaat al-Dawa (the renamed Lashkar-e-Toiba) is not rebanned. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230, 436] Powell’s comments simply state what has been well known for a long time. For instance, the Washington Post reported in February 2003 that the organizations were active again after changing their names. [Washington Post, 2/8/2003]
Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. [Source: Public domain]The Los Angeles Times reports that Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is living and operating openly in Pakistan. He lives with his family in the city of Rawalpindi and urges his followers to fight the US. Khalil was a signatory to Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa [religious edict] that encouraged attacks on Americans and Jews anywhere in the world (see February 22, 1998). In late 1998, Khalil said, “We will hit back at [the Americans] everywhere in the world, wherever we find them. We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.” The Pakistani government banned HUM in January 2002 (see Shortly After January 12-March 2002), but the group simply changed its name to Jamiat ul-Ansar and continued to operate. Then it was banned again in November 2003 (see November 2003). The Times reports that HUM is openly defying the most recent ban. HUM publishes a monthly magazine that urges volunteers to fight the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a recent issue published since the most recent ban, Khalil calls on followers to “sacrifice our life, property and heart” in order to help create one Muslim nation that will control the whole world. The magazine continues to appear on newsstands in Pakistan and gives announcements for upcoming HUM meetings and events, despite the group supposedly being banned.
Government Takes No Action - The Pakistani government claims not to know where Khalil is, even though his magazine publishes his contact information (Times reporters attempting to find him for an interview were detained and roughed up by his supporters.) Government officials also claim that Khalil and HUM are doing nothing illegal, even though HUM’s magazine makes clear fund-raising appeals in each issue, and Pakistani law clearly specifies that banned groups are not allowed to fund-raise. Officials also say that they don’t know where the leaders of other banned militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba are, but these leaders make frequent public appearances and documents obtain by the Times show the ISI intelligence agency is closely monitoring them. Militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar has not been arrested even though his group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, was recently implicated in the attempted assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see December 14 and 25, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/2004]
Link to California Suspect - In 2005, a Pakistani immigrant to the US named Umer Hayat will be arrested in California on terrorism charges. He will allegedly confess to having toured training camps in Pakistan run by Khalil, who is a family friend. He will only serve a short time for making false statements to the FBI, but his son Hamid Hayat will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on similar charges (see June 3, 2005). [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2005]
Harun Shirzad al-Afghani. [Source: Defense Department]Harun Shirzad al-Afghani is an alleged veteran Islamist militant held in Guanatanamo prison starting in 2007. His Guantanamo file will later be leaked to the public, and it states that he is believed to have attended an important meeting of militant groups on August 11, 2006. A letter found with al-Afghani explains that the meeting is meant to bring together senior figures in the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (a Pakistani militant group), and Hezb-i-Islami (another militant group, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). But most interestingly, the file claims that senior Pakistani military and ISI (intelligence) officials also attend the meeting. The meeting discusses coordination of attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Plans are made to “increase terrorist operations” in certain Afghanistan provinces, including suicide bombings, assassinations, and mines. Al-Afghani also allegedly tells his Guantanamo interrogators that in 2006 an unnamed ISI officer pays an Islamist militant a large sum of money to transport ammunition into Afghanistan to help al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hezb-e-Islami. Al-Afghani’s file describes him as a leader both in al-Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami, with links to important leaders in both groups predating the 9/11 attacks. He is captured in Afghanistan in February 2007 and transferred to Guantanamo several months later. [Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 8/2/2007 ; Guardian, 4/25/2011]
In 2007, when General Nadeem Taj becomes head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, he allows “a number of radical ideologues associated with jihadist groups to use Abbottabad as a transit hub.” One such person is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, head of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group sometimes linked to both the ISI and al-Qaeda. This is according to a London Times article published shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [London Times, 5/8/2011] Prior to heading the ISI, Taj was the commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, which is only 800 yards from the Abbottabad compound Osama bin Laden hid in starting around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). Taj started that job in April 2006. [News (Islamabad), 4/24/2006] On September 29, 2008, it will be reported that the US is intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. [Australian, 9/29/2008] Taj will be replaced by Ahmed Shuja Pasha one day later (see September 30, 2008). [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] Some will later say that the ISI had to have known that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad (see May 2, 2011 and After).
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
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.
In a Newsweek interview, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls former ISI Director Hamid Gul a “political ideologue of terror.” He is asked about reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked him to arrest Gul, due to Gul’s alleged links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Zardari replies: “Hamid Gul is an actor who is definitely not in our good books. Hamid Gul is somebody who was never appreciated by our government. She [Rice] did not go into specifics, if I may share that with you.… He has not been accused in the Mumbai incident.… I think he is more of a political ideologue of terror rather than a physical supporter.” Zardari also strongly denies that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, had any role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). [Newsweek, 12/12/2008] In fact, Gul has been accused in regards to the “Mumbai incident,” which is a reference to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Several days prior to Zardari’s interview, it was reported that India is seeking Gul’s arrest for a role in that attack along with that of some other Pakistanis. The Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba has been accused of having a role in the attack, and Gul is widely seen as a frequent adviser to this group. Gul denies any link to the attack, or any other attack. Also several days before Zardari’s interview, it was reported the US is attempting to add Gul’s name to a terrorist watchlist for actual roles in attacks and not just being a “political ideologue of terror” (see December 7, 2008). [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] In 2010, it will be reported that Gul has been linked to many recent militant attacks (see July 26, 2010).
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton circulates a diplomatic cable that states Pakistani intelligence continues to support some Islamist militant groups. The cable is sent to US ambassadors and other US diplomats, and contains “talking points” to raise with host governments. In Pakistan, the diplomats are told to press the Pakistani government to take action against the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban operating in Pakistan, and to enforce sanctions against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The cable reads, “Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Toiba], and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.” (A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.) The contents of the cable will be made public by Wikileaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, in 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/31/2011]
US officials privately brief British Prime Minister David Cameron. In his first visit to Washington, DC, as prime minister, Cameron is briefed by General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to a later account by the Guardian, Cartwright tells Cameron that the ISI, Pakistani’s intelligence agency, is at least tolerating terrorism, and may be promoting it. The Guardian will add that Cameron “was not just told in Washington that organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba were able to launch attacks on India and Britain from Pakistan. Cameron was also warned that Pakistan was providing a haven for al-Qaeda leaders, possibly including Osama bin Laden.” [Guardian, 5/2/2011] Exactly one week after this briefing, Cameron will publicly accuse Pakistan of supporting and exporting terrorism (see July 28, 2010). This briefing takes place the same month US intelligence makes a key intelligence breakthrough that soon leads to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see July 2010 and May 2, 2011).
Speaking publicly in India, British Prime Minister David Cameron claims that the Pakistani government is exporting terrorism. He says, “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror, whether to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. That is why this relationship is important. But it should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and from [Britain] is very clear on that point.” He also says that “[G]roups like the Taliban, the Haqqani network, or Lakshar-e-Taiba should not be allowed to launch attacks on Indian and British citizens in India or in Britain.” All three militant groups mentioned have been accused of terrorist bombings and there are claims the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been backing them.
Cameron Does Not Back Down - Later in the day, Cameron is asked in an interview if Pakistan exports terrorism. He replies, “I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is about supporting terrorism elsewhere. It is well-documented that that has been the case in the past, and we have to make sure that the Pakistan authorities are not looking two ways.”
Diplomatic Row Ensues - Pakistani officials immediately take offense and reject the validity of Cameron’s statement. The Guardian reports that Cameron’s unusually blunt comments spark a “furious diplomatic row” between Britain and Pakistan. Cameron’s comments appear to be based on a briefing he was given by US officials one week earlier (see July 21, 2010). [Guardian, 7/28/2010]
The Associated Press reports that three active Islamist militant training camps have existed for a long time just 35 miles from Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed earlier in the month (see May 2, 2011). The camps are in the Ughi area of the Mansehra district, a more mountainous and remote region than Abbottabad. The Associated Press claims to have spoken to many people, even some of the militants in the camps, and has learned the three camps together house hundreds of militants.
Camps Operate with Government Knowledge - The Pakistani military claims to be unaware of any such camps, but villagers near the camp say this is impossible. They point out there even is a military checkpoint on the road to one of the camps. There have been militant camps in the area since the 1990s. One camp attendee says that attendees can take part in a four-week course of basic military skills, or a three-month course on guerrilla warfare. Promising graduates are then sent to the Pakistani part of Kashmir for more training. The camps are very close to Kashmir, a region disputed between Pakistan and India, and most of the camp attendees presumably aim to fight India in Kashmir with Pakistani government approval. But there are inevitably some trained in the camps who get involved with other militant activities and groups instead. [Associated Press, 5/22/2011]
Militant Groups and Bombers Linked to Camps - Radio Free Europe has also claimed that militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have long been active in the Abbottabad area, “seemingly tolerated by the Pakistani military and intelligence services,” and the Taliban have a strong presence in the area as well. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011] Some of the suicide bombers in the London 7/7 bombings trained in the Mansehra area (see July 2001), and five British Pakistanis found guilty of a 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004) trained there too. [London Times, 5/8/2011]
Operational Link between Bin Laden and Nearby Camps? - The militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen has training camps in the Mansehra area as well, and Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, bin Laden’s trusted courier who lived with him in Abbottabad, had numerous Harkat phone numbers in his cell phone that was confiscated in the US raid that killed bin Laden (see June 23, 2011). He also visited a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in the Mansehra area at some point. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
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