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Profile: Tahir Shehzad
Tahir Shehzad was a participant or observer in the following events:
Pakistani intelligence begins monitoring Tahir Shehzad, an apparent al-Qaeda facilitator who lives in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Shehzad lives only about two miles away from where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but apparently Pakistani investigators are not aware of bin Laden’s hideout at this time.
Who Is Shehzad? - Shehzad works as a clerk in Abbottabad’s main post office. One relative will later say that Shehzad was “a jihadist through and through.” According to an article published in April 2011, shortly before the US raid on bin Laden’s hideout, Shehzad is first suspected in 2010 when he is spotted with an “Arab terror suspect.” The name of this suspect has not yet been made public. [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011] Another account will claim that Shehzad was monitored after he was received suspiciously large cash transfers. [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shehzad will be arrested in January 2011 after he leaves Abbottabad to meet two suspected militants from France in a nearby town. He will then confess the location of Indonesian militant leader Umar Patek, who is arrested in Abbottabad that same month (see January 25, 2011).
Alternate Account for Bin Laden Intel? - The News, a Pakistani newspaper, will later report that anonymous Pakistani government sources claim the surveillance and then arrest of Shehzad led Pakistani investigators to bin Laden’s hideout before the US raid that kills bin Laden in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Furthermore, these same sources claim that the Shehzad lead is the real intelligence coup that led to the US raid. [News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011] An unnamed CIA official will later say, “It is quite possible a false or partial narrative was given of how bin Laden was found. … Intelligence can only function in silence and in the dark - protecting source and method is very important.” [London Times, 5/23/2011]
Abdul Hameed Sohail at his house in Abbottabad. [Source: Associated Press]On January 25, 2011, radical militant Umar Patek is arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Patek is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect at the time, because he is the only major suspect wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing who has not yet been killed or captured. The US issued a $1 million bounty on him in 2005 (see October 6, 2005 and After). Patek has $1 million in cash on him when he is arrested, and he is shot in the leg during the arrest. News of Patek’s arrest will become public in late March 2011 (see March 30, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/4/2011; Independent, 5/8/2011] The CIA worked with other countries to get Patek. But Patek stays imprisoned in Pakistan, unlike many other terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan who are deported to the US or elsewhere. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011]
Is Patek There to See to Bin Laden? - After Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), an unnamed senior US counterterrorism official will say that Patek’s presence in the town “appears to have been pure coincidence” and there is no evidence that Patek was meeting with bin Laden there. However, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will later say, “The information we have is that Umar Patek… was in Pakistan with his Filipino wife trying to meet Osama Bin Laden.” Indonesian counterterrorism official Chairul Akbar will further explain that Patek was there to meet bin Laden and get his “support and protection.” Akbar says that Patek “was instructed to go to Abbottabad to meet other militants.” He will also claim that Patek may have met other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but he had not yet met with bin Laden before his arrest. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Patek’s arrest takes place less than two miles away from where bin Laden is hiding. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
Link to Bin Laden's Key Courier - The Independent will report after bin Laden’s death that Patek met with Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), an al-Qaeda courier who is living with bin Laden in an Abbottabad compound at the time. By this time, US intelligence is intensively monitoring the compound and everyone in it (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). However, the compound is not searched by the Pakistanis during the raid that got Patek, or in the months afterward. [Independent, 5/3/2011]
Link to Another Al-Qaeda Courier - Additionally, two French men, Sharaf Deen and Zohaib Afza, are arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2001. One of them was born in Pakistan and the other was a convert to Islam. A Pakistani named Tahir Shehzad is arrested with them. Investigators will later say that they trailed Shehzad from Abbottabad to Lahore, and that the French men planned to travel with Patek to Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. Shehzad gave up Patek’s location, which led to his arrest two days later. Later press reports will call Shehzad an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” who worked as a clerk in the Abbottabad post office. Pakistani intelligence had Shehzad under surveillance since 2010, when he was seen in Abbottabad with an “Arab terror suspect” (see August 2010). [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011]
Waiting in Abbottabad for Someone? - Abbottabad resident Abdul Hameed Sohail will later tell the press that his son found Patek and Patek’s wife cold and shivering in the street, and he ended up feeling sorry for them and let them stay in his house. They were given an upstairs room, and for nine days they rarely left the room or even ate the food that he left for them. Finally, Pakistani officials raided the house, shot Patek, and took him away. Sohail is not arrested. However, his son Kashif is arrested as an accomplice, and will still be in custody three months later. Patek and his wife had arrived in Pakistan five months earlier, traveling with forged passports, but it is not known where they were in Pakistan prior to Abbottabad. (Nor is it known what happens to his wife.) [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
CIA Tip Off - It also will later be reported that the CIA gave key information to Pakistan about Patek being in Pakistan, which led to his arrest. It may be that the CIA gave the information that Patek had gone to Pakistan five months earlier under another name. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] In hindsight, this is interesting since the CIA is part of the surveillance of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound at the time, and news of Patek’s arrest could have threatened the effort to find bin Laden.
Entity Tags: Kashif Sohail, Osama bin Laden, Chairul Akbar, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Umar Patek, Abdul Hameed Sohail, Al-Qaeda, Zohaib Afza, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Tahir Shehzad
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Umar Patek with the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines, 2007. [Source: Associated Press]The Associated Press makes public for the first time the arrest of an Indonesian militant named Umar Patek in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on January 25, 2011. It will later turn out that Osama bin Laden is in hiding in Abbottabad at this time, and Patek may have been there to meet with him (see January 25, 2011). The Associated Press claims that the information was provided by Indonesian and Philippine intelligence officials one day earlier, and then it was confirmed by Pakistani officials before publication. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] News reports two weeks later even reveal that an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” and Abbottabad resident named Tahir Shehzad was arrested as well, after he gave up Patek’s location. Plus, it is reported that Shehzad had been monitored by Pakistani intelligence for a year before that. [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011]
Who Is to Blame? - Bin Laden does not immediately move from Abbottabad after these reports come out. After he is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the Pakistani government will register displeasure that Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed the information about the arrest on March 30. But Rudd’s confirmation comes after the Associated Press article has been published. A Pakistani official will say that an attempt was made to keep the arrest a secret for fear that “subsequent leads would all go dead.”
No Reaction from Bin Laden? - The Australian will later note, “Many security experts have… expressed surprise that the leaking of Patek’s arrest in Abbottabad did not trigger alarm bells in the bin Laden compound and prompt [bin Laden] to flee the area.” [Australian, 5/6/2011]
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