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Profile: Osama bin Laden
a.k.a. Osama Muhammad Al-Wahad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, OBL, UBL, The Sheikh, Abu Abdullah, Sheikh, Osama bin Ladin, Mujahid Shaykh, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Emir, Director
Osama bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US government selectively releases videos of Osama bin Laden found in the raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). ABC News reports, “The US government is running a full-court press to prevent Osama bin Laden from becoming a hallowed martyr by using what are essentially out-takes of videos made by bin Laden to paint him instead as a vain, pathetic old man, experts said today.” Excerpts from five videos are made public. The one that attracts the most attention shows bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hidehout, wrapped in a blanket and watching videos of himself on television. He is seen using a remote control to frequently change channels. Author Lawrence Wright comments, “[This is] just a guy who wants to be seen, who wants to be known. [It’s] very pathetic in a way.” [ABC News, 5/9/2011]
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announces that he has ordered the Pakistani army to investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to hide in Pakistan for many years (see May 2, 2011). The investigation will be carried out by the army’s adjutant general, Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal. However, at the same time, Gillani says that it is “disingenuous” to blame any part of the Pakistani government for being “in cahoots” with al-Qaeda. “Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We didn’t invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan,” he says. He specifically defends the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which has been repeatedly accused of supporting some Islamist militants, saying: “The ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government. We are proud of its considerable contribution to the anti-terror campaign.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Former US Representative Michael D. Barnes (D-MD) claims that ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto firmly believed Osama bin Laden was being protected by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Barnes says that he was a good friend of Bhutto before her assassination in 2007, and he regularly socialized with her when she visited the US. He says that on more than one occasion, she told him that she was virtually certain bin Laden was not living in a remote mountain cave. Instead, she claimed: “He’s living comfortably somewhere in Pakistan. He’s being supported and protected by Pakistani intelligence. You can bet on it.” She also complained that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI were “in cahoots,” working together to attack US forces in Afghanistan. She felt her own life could be in danger (see December 27, 2007) because of her opposition to this covert Pakistani policy. [Washington Post, 5/13/2011]
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]
The London Times reports that the US Navy SEALS who raided Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound had a pocket guide to the building’s occupants so specific that it mentioned the types of clothes bin Laden usually wore. One copy of the guide was left behind in the raid that killed bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and the Times was able to obtain it. The guide lists the names of ages of the people living inside the compound, as well as where they live in the compound and when some of them arrived. Photographs of some people are included. The guide is obviously based on recent information. For instance, it mentions twins born this year to bin Laden’s youngest wife. It also states that bin Laden: “Always wears light-colored shawl kameez with a dark vest. Occasionally wears light-colored prayer cap.” The Times comments that the guide raises new questions about the raid. Some experts suggest that it indicates US intelligence had a mole inside the compound, while other experts suggest it simply shows that the US’s data collection in the months before the raid was extremely thorough, and perhaps used technology “far more sophisticated than hitherto realized.” The Times also notes that after the raid, President Obama “said he had been ‘only 45 per cent to 55 per cent sure that bin Laden was even in the compound.’ [But the guide] indicates US intelligence was certain of his presence.” [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shortly after the raid, the Washington Post published a story claiming that US intelligence monitored bin Laden while he took frequent walks in the courtyard of the compound. This guide suggests that story was accurate (see Shortly After August 2010-May 2, 2011).
A cell phone could link Osama bin Laden to an Islamist militant group with ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports. The US military raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) also killed a courier who had links to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an Islamist militant group in Pakistan with links to the ISI. This suggests that the ISI may have been indirectly linked to bin Laden in his hideout.
Links to Harkat Could Lead to ISI - The cell phone of bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (also known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) was recovered by US forces during the raid. The New York Times reports that senior US officials say the cell phone contains contacts to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen. This group has long been considered an asset of the ISI. Tracing the phone calls, US intelligence analysts determined Harkat leaders in communication with Ahmed had called ISI officials. One Harkat leader met an ISI official in person. No “smoking gun” showing the ISI protected bin Laden has been found so far. However, the Times says that this raises “tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harkat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years.”
Harkat Has Strong Local Presence - Harkat is said to have a strong presence in the area around Abbottabad. The group has training camps and other facilities in Mansehra, only a few miles away. Bin Laden’s courier Ahmed appears to have stopped by a camp in Mansehra belonging to a Harkat splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Members of Harkat are able to move freely within Pakistan. Even now, the group’s top leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, about 30 miles away from Abbottabad. Analysts suspect this support network could explain why bin Laden chose to hide where he did. Harkat also has a presence in Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to live, so bin Laden could have used it to send money and messages back and forth to the tribal region.
Harkat 'Very, Very Close to the ISI' - Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says that Harkat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI. The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the US. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
The New York Times reports that two unnamed former leaders of Pakistani militant groups are convinced the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped hide Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). One leader spent about 10 years with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group linked to the courier who lived with bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout. The other leader was a secret informant for the Pakistani military while working for Pakistani militant groups for about 15 years until a few years ago. The newspaper reports that the two leaders “offered no proof of their belief that bin Laden was under Pakistani military protection. But their views were informed by their years of work with the ISI and their knowledge of how the spy agency routinely handled militant leaders it considered assets—placing them under protective custody in cities, often close to military installations. The treatment amounts to a kind of house arrest, to ensure both the security of the asset and his low profile to avoid embarrassment to his protectors.” [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
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