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Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2010]
Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is apparently the source of much material released by Wikileaks, is arrested by US Army Criminal Investigation Division officials at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad. [Wired News, 6/6/2010]
Andrew Warren, a former CIA station chief in Algeria, pleads guilty to one count of abusive sexual conduct, stemming from date rape allegations, and one count of using illegal drugs while possessing a firearm, which resulted from the circumstances of his arrest in April (see April 26, 2010). Warren faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine, registration as a convicted sex offender, and lifelong supervised release. [ABC News, 6/7/2010] However, according to an earlier report, he could have faced life in prison. [ABC News, 4/27/2010] Warren had initially claimed he was not guilty, but changed his plea after adverse rulings on preliminary matters by Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. First, the court rejected a motion to suppress the discovery of child pornography on his CIA laptop by a Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent. [Washington Post, 6/4/2010] Warren’s lawyer had tried to suppress the evidence and statements to the DSS agent on the grounds they were improperly obtained. [Washington Post, 3/23/2010] Then Huvelle ruled that potential witnesses Warren wanted to call to prove he was the victim of a sex trap set by “Algerian women who acted as ‘honey traps’ to manipulate American officials” had no direct knowledge of the case. [Washington Post, 6/4/2010] Warren is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He limps when walking in court and tells Huvelle during the plea that he is seeing a counselor in prison and has been prescribed the antidepressant Celexa. [ABC News, 6/7/2010]
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells ABC News that there are on 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal region. He says that the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan is “relatively small.… At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He also says that bin Laden “is in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He concedes that the CIA has not had good intelligence on bin Laden’s location for a long time. “It’s been a while. I think it goes back almost to the early 2000s, you know in terms of actually when [bin Laden] was leaving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then it has been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” [ABC News, 6/27/2010] Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
In an interview, CIA Director Leon Panetta says Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan’s tribal region. Bin Laden, Panetta says, is in “very deep hiding. He’s in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan, that is very difficult. The terrain is probably the most difficult in the world.” Asked when the CIA last had good information on bin Laden’s location, Panetta says: “It’s been a while. I think it almost goes back to the early 2000s in terms of actually when he was moving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then, it’s been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” [ABC News, 6/27/2010] Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
A key mistake by Osama bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) lead US intelligence to exact location of bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). US intelligence already had a good idea that Ahmed was a courier working for bin Laden, and in the summer of 2009, he used a cell phone that allowed analysts to determine he was living somewhere in northwest Pakistan (see Summer 2009). But he drove an hour or two before making his calls, and he changed the SIM cards in his phone, making it impossible to pinpoint his exact location. After a flurry of calls in the summer of 2009, he did not use his phone for nearly a year. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Phone Call Is Key Mistake - But then, around July 2010, he accepts a call that provides the key intelligence breakthrough. The call is from an unnamed old friend, but the friend’s calls are already being monitored by US intelligence for his al-Qaeda links. The friend asks Ahmed innocuous questions, like where have you been and what are you doing now. Ahmed vaguely replies, “I’m back with the people I was with before.” Bob Woodward of the Washington Post will later report, “There was a pause, as if the friend knew that [Ahmed’s] words meant he had returned to bin Laden’s inner circle, and was perhaps at the side of the al-Qaeda leader himself. The friend replied, ‘May God facilitate.’” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Exact Neighborhood Is Located - According to one account, when Ahmed takes this call, apparently he is in or near the town of Peshawar (about 120 miles from Abbottabad). He is soon spotted there, and then continually monitored. It will take several weeks before he returns to Abbottabad, and the exact location of bin Laden’s hideout there is discovered. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] According to another account, Ahmed is either inside bin Laden’s compound or very close to it when he takes the call, because the NSA is quickly able to determine the exact neighborhood where the call was received. From there, the CIA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency search aerial satellite photographs and deduce which house in the neighborhood likely belongs to bin Laden. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] Either way, apparently his hideout will be discovered by US intelligence on August 1 (see August 1, 2010).
Bin Laden's Compound Already Known to CIA? - According to the Associated Press, the CIA had already known “for years” that bin Laden’s compound was linked to al-Qaeda, but they had dismissed it as not very important since there were no security guards patrolling it. In any case, the compound is located (or relocated), and US intelligence starts to monitor it. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
The location of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, allegedly is revealed by a captured German militant. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), both the Washington Times and London Times will claim that a militant named Ahmed Siddiqui is captured in Afghanistan in July 2010, and quickly tells US interrogators that bin Laden is hiding in a compound in Abbottabad (although apparently he does not mention the exact location, just the town). Both articles will also claim that US intelligence tracks bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed to bin Laden’s compound at nearly the exact same time (see July 2010 and August 1, 2010). The Washington Times will mention that different sources name Siddiqui or Ahmed as the key intelligence breakthrough. [Washington Times, 5/2/2011; London Times, 5/8/2011] In September 2010, Der Spiegel will report that the 36-year-old Siddiqui is arrested in early July by US forces in Afghanistan, and he confesses about attack plots in Germany and other countries. He is a German of Afghan descent, and is believed to be part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). He is thought to have gone to Pakistan and Afghanistan in early 2009. He attended the same mosque in Hamburg as some of the 9/11 hijackers such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Siddiqui also has links to Mounir El Motassadeq, who was given a 15-year sentence in Germany for a role in the 9/11 attacks (see January 8, 2007). For instance, Siddiqui worked at the Hamburg airport like El Motassadeq did, drove El Motassadeq’s father to jail to visit El Motassadeq, and went on vacation with El Motassadeq’s family in Morocco in 2002. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/6/2010]
Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard makes some phone calls that help US intelligence to conclude bin Laden is living in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In July 2010, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) accepts a phone call on his cell phone from a friend who is already being monitored by US intelligence, and this leads investigators to the exact compound in Abbottabad where Ahmed and bin Laden live (see July 2010). Investigators determine there is no land line or Internet in the compound. However, there is a satellite phone that apparently is used by bin Laden’s bodyguard.
Calls to Known Associates - In July and August 2010, US intelligence tracks calls from this bodyguard to al-Qaeda associates in the towns of Charsada and Kohat in the same province. Further details are unknown, such as who is called or if the bodyguard continues to make calls after August 2010. But these calls help US analysts decide that bin Laden is probably living inside the compound.
Who Is the Bodyguard? - The name of this bodyguard will not be made public, but apparently he is Kuwaiti. When bin Laden is killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011) there will be no bodyguards with him. However, Ahmed and his brother Abrar could be considered Kuwaiti, as they were originally Pakistani, but raised in Kuwait. [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2011] So perhaps the bodyguard is actually one of them.
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).
A Washington Post article suggests that Hamid Gul, head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, has been frequently linked to recent Islamist militant activity. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and in the 1980s Gul worked closely with the US to support the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and defeat the Soviets there (see April 1987). The Post article states that “more than two decades later, it appears that General Gul is still at work. [Newly leaked] documents indicate that he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.” The Post is referring to thousands of classified US government documents made public by WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group. The documents often appear to be raw intelligence that sometimes turns out to be inaccurate. But nonetheless, the Post notes that “General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.”
Link to Recent Taliban and Al-Qaeda Activity - For example, according to one intelligence report, Gul met with a group of militants in South Waziristan (in Pakistan’s tribal region), on January 5, 2009. He allegedly met with Taliban and al-Qaeda figures, and planned an attack to avenge the death of al-Qaeda leader Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), who had been killed several days earlier by a US drone strike (see January 1, 2009). The group discussed driving a truck rigged with explosives into Afghanistan to be used against US forces there. According to another report, in January 2008, Gul directed the Taliban to kidnap high-level United Nations personnel in Afghanistan to trade for captured Pakistani soldiers. [Washington Post, 7/26/2010]
Gul Frequently Mentioned in Intelligence Reports - Gul lives openly in an exclusive district of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and he frequently shares his pro-Taliban views with reporters. But a Der Spiegel article published on this day notes that the nearly 92,000 documents recently published by WikiLeaks “suggest that Gul is more than just a garrulous old man. If the accusations are true, Gul isn’t just an ally of the Taliban in spirit, but is also supplying them with weapons and thereby actively taking part in the fight against Western forces. Gul is effectively being accused of being an important helper of the Taliban, and possibly even one of their leaders.” In fact, “The name Hamid Gul appears more often than virtually any other” in the documents. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 7/26/2010]
Gul Still Linked to Pakistani Government? - Gul denies all the allegations. Pakistani officials also deny that Gul still works with the ISI in any way. But the Post reports: “Despite his denials, General Gul keeps close ties to his former employers. When a reporter visited General Gul this spring for an interview at his home, the former spy master canceled the appointment. According to his son, he had to attend meetings at army headquarters.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2010] In late 2008, the US government attempted to put Gul on a United Nations list of terrorist supporters, but apparently that move has been blocked by other countries (see December 7, 2008).
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]
According to ABC News, beginning in August 2010, the US begins flying a stealth drone over the newly discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where intelligence experts have discovered Osama bin Laden is probably secretly hiding (see August 1, 2010). The drone is of a new type, and very little is known about it. Crucially, it is able to fly above Pakistan undetected by Pakistan’s air defenses, allowing the US to keep its interest in the town and compound a secret. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
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]
An illustration of the Abbottabad compound. [Source: CIA]US intelligence officials come to believe more strongly that they have found Osama bin Laden. US intelligence officials have tracked al-Qaeda courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2010 (see July 2010), and by September they are so convinced that bin Laden is hiding there that they inform President Obama about this (see September 1, 2010). Bin Laden is not directly seen by surveillance, but there are many clues suggesting he could be there:
Most importantly, Ahmed fits the profile of an ideal courier for bin Laden, and Ahmed lives at the compound.
The compound is surrounded by 12- to 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire.
However, there is no telephone or Internet in the compound. This would seem to be an unusual security precaution, but it also makes the compound hard to monitor.
The compound sits on a large plot of land and is about eight times larger than the other homes in the neighborhood.
The people in the compound burn their trash instead of leaving it out for collection, like the other neighbors.
The main three-story building in the compound has few outside windows.
Ahmed and the others known to live in the compound have no known source of wealth that could explain how they pay the expenses of running the compound. [CNN, 5/2/2011]
There are no balconies, except for those covered with more high walls. Balconies are a standard feature for wealthy houses like this one in Pakistan. One neighbor will later comment: “It’s not a proper house. It’s more like a warehouse. It’s not like a home where anyone would want to live.” [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
A senior Obama administration official will later say, “When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw—an extraordinarily unique compound.” He adds that intelligence analysts conclude the compound was “custom-built to hide someone of significance.… Everything we saw… was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like.” [CNN, 5/2/2011] However, according to the Associated Press, US intelligence has known about the compound “for years,” but it did not think bin Laden would live there because there were no security guards. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] Months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [Source: Aqeel Ahmed / Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)US intelligence finally learns the exact location of Osama bin Laden’s secret compound, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [New York Times, 5/3/2011] The compound is discovered by US intelligence tracking bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence was already aware of Ahmed’s general location in northwest Pakistan and was aggressively searching for him in the hopes he could show the way to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009). According to one account, Ahmed accepts a phone call while in Peshawar, about 120 miles from Abbottabad, and is tracked when he returns to the compound. According to another account, he accepts the call in or near the compound (see July 2010). In any case, once the compound is discovered, US intelligence begins heavily monitoring it (see August-September 2010).
US intelligence begins intensively spying on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where they strongly suspect Osama bin Laden is hiding (see August-September 2010). The compound was discovered on August 1, 2010 (see August 1, 2010). The Washington Post will later report that “virtually every category of [intelligence] collection in the US arsenal” is used, including satellite imagery and attempts to record voices inside the compound.
CIA Safehouse - The efforts include a CIA safehouse located somewhere near the compound. Abbottabad is a tourist town with pleasant weather and colonial era charm, enabling strangers to easily come and go without attracting suspicion. The CIA takes advantage of that atmosphere to send CIA operatives and informants into the town to gather information. A former US official will say, “The [main compound building] was three stories high, and you could watch it from a variety of angles.” Moving there “was his biggest mistake.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Escape Tunnel? - Analysts even study the water tables in the area in an attempt to figure out if bin Laden could have an escape tunnel. They conclude the soil is too wet to build a tunnel. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Intelligence Allegedly Still Lacking - The surveillance is so extensive that in December 2010, the CIA has to secretly get Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within various agency budgets to help fund it. But US intelligence is allegedly unable to get a clearly identifiable picture or voice recording of bin Laden before the raid that eventually kills him. The CIA safehouse is abandoned shortly after the May 2, 2011 raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), since it has served its purpose. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Shortly after US intelligence begins monitoring the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where it suspects Osama bin Laden is hiding out (see August 1, 2010 and August 2010-May 2, 2011), a man who fits bin Laden’s description is seen walking around outside almost every day, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward will later report. The man leaves the main compound building but stays within the compound walls to walk around a courtyard for an hour or two. Analysts eventually start calling him “the pacer.” Satellite imagery suggests the pacer has the height and gait of a tall man (and bin Laden is at least six foot four inches tall). However, the satellite imagery is reportedly not clear enough to get a good view of his face. This tall person is never seen leaving the compound. An analysis of the daily routine of this person suggests he is living there almost like a prisoner. Allegedly, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells President Obama and other top US officials that it is too risky to send in a human spy or move electronic equipment closer to confirm if the pacer is bin Laden or not. As a result, US intelligence will still not be 100 percent that bin Laden is living in the compound when US Special Forces raid it in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] The London Times will publish a later story claiming that US intelligence was aware of the type of clothes bin Laden wore before the raid (see May 23, 2011). That would support these claims about bin Laden’s walks.
The Al-Quds mosque, which was attended by three 9/11 hijackers for several years (see Early 1996), is closed down. The mosque in Hamburg, Germany, has long been known as a gathering place for radical Islamists. In recent years, it changed its name to the Taiba mosque. Police raid the mosque and shut it down, ban the cultural society linked to it, and confiscate its assets and documents. However, there are no arrests. There was a long legal battle before the police were given permission to close the mosque. Der Spiegel comments: “Every Muslim visitor must have known that he was under close scrutiny from police authorities as soon as he set foot in the building. In fact, it proved quite helpful for the Hamburg intelligence service because all the city’s Islamists would congregate here.” However, not only was the mosque associated with the 9/11 attacks, but the imam at the mosque for most of the 1990s, Mohammed Fazazi, was convicted of involvement in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (see 1993-Late 2001 and May 16, 2003). Furthermore, in 2009, a group of 10 radical Islamists who had attended the mosque left Hamburg for Pakistan’s tribal region in an attempt to attend militant training camps (see March 5, 2009). Some were arrested and revealed they were part of a plot to attack targets in Europe, and they also linked up with members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell (see May 2010). One of them, Naamen Meziche, who will be killed in a US drone strike in 2010, is the son-in-law of Fazazi, the former imam at the mosque (see October 5, 2010). In recent years, the imam at the mosque has been Mamoun Darkazanli, who was linked to many in the al-Qaeda cell with the 9/11 hijackers, and was suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda well before 9/11 (see Late 1998 and October 9, 1999). Spain has filed a request for his extradition on terrorism charges, but Germany has refused to extradite him (see (see Late April 2007). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/9/2010] Some German officials believe he is still involved in al-Qaeda, but he apparently is careful not to break any German laws (see November 11, 2010).
The Wall Street Journal runs an article about the chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan (see Summer 2009). The purpose of the article seems to be to stress the importance of the station chief, known only as “Spider.” The Journal calls him the “key” to relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and “a pivotal behind-the-scenes power broker in Kabul.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010]
CIA Director Leon Panetta informs President Obama that Osama bin Laden may be living in a certain compound in Pakistan that is being monitored. (Some accounts say Obama is informed in August, but most say September, and one account specifies September 1.) [Associated Press, 5/2/2011; CNN, 5/2/2011; New York Times, 5/3/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Many of Obama’s top aides are at the top secret meeting as well, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Panetta describes the compound and the intelligence leading to it in great detail. An unnamed administration official at the meeting will later say: “It was electric.… For so long, we’d been trying to get a handle on this guy. And all of a sudden, it was like, wow, there he is.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011] The evidence is so tantalizing that the US decides not to say anything about the compound to the Pakistani government, or to even close US allies like Britain or Canada, for fear that intelligence leaks could let bin Laden slip away. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
News reports indicate that former al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith has been released after years of house arrest in Iran. Abu Ghaith had been held in Iran with other al-Qaeda leaders under a kind of secret house arrest since early 2002 (see Spring 2002). Sometime earlier in the year, abu Ghaith was allegedly sent to Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban in exchange for the release of an Iranian diplomat named Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, who was kidnapped in 2008. [United Press International, 9/29/2010]
Rami Makanesi. [Source: DAPD]In June 2010, Rami Makanesi, a German militant of Syrian descent, is arrested in Pakistan and quickly deported to Germany. He becomes a key source of information on recent al-Qaeda activity, and in return gets only a four-year sentence in Germany. In October 2010, he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda suspects, and he recognizes Said Bahaji in one of them. Bahaji is a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, and fled to Pakistan shortly before the 9/11 attacks (see September 3-5, 2001). He has been wanted in Germany ever since (see September 21, 2001). Makanesi reveals that he spoke to Bahaji in May 2010, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Makanesi says that Bahaji “now looks completely different. He has a long beard and longer hair.” Bahaji is not considered a high ranking al-Qaeda leader, but he is respected because he has been involved so long. Bahaji now works for As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s propaganda and media effort. He is responsible for As-Sahab’s technical infrastructure. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Bahaji Still Not on Any US Wanted List - However, despite this news that Bahaji is not only still alive but continues to have an important al-Qaeda role, the US government has yet to publicly charge Bahaji or put him on any of their most wanted lists, nor has any bounty been announced for him. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/13/2011] Bahaji is not even on the FBI’s “Seeking Information—War on Terrorism” list. A person does not have to be formally charged to be on that list. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 6/5/2011]
A US drone strike kills some suspected militants in Pakistan tied to an alleged plot to strike Europe, including an apparent member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg that was involved in the 9/11 attacks. The strike kills eight people in Pakistan’s tribal region. Naamen Meziche, a French citizen of Algerian descent and longtime German resident, is one of those killed. He had been under investigation since shortly after 9/11 for his connections to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh, al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, but the German government was never able to get enough evidence to charge him with any crime. In March 2009, Meziche joined a group of Islamist extremists traveling from Hamburg to Pakistan for military training (see March 5, 2009). Two other men from the group, Bunyamin E. and Shahab Dashti, are reportedly killed in the drone strike as well. [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2010]
An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. [CNN, 10/18/2010] When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).
Manfred Murck. [Source: DPA]Manfred Murck, the head of intelligence in Hamburg, Germany, expresses frustration that Mamoun Darkazanli is still not imprisoned. In an interview with CNN, Murck says, “We knew him even before 9/11… we still believe that he was, and maybe still is, a kind of representative of al-Qaeda in Hamburg.” Darkazanli was linked to many members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell that included a few of the 9/11 hijackers (see October 9, 1999), and he was suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda since the early 1990s (see 1993 and Late 1998), but the German government never developed enough evidence to charge him. He is wanted in Spain, but the German government has refused to extradite him (see Late April 2007). In recent years, Darkazanli became the imam to the Al-Quds mosque, the same mosque attended by Mohamed Atta and others involved in the 9/11 plot who knew Darkazanli. In March 2009, a group of young men who attended Al-Quds left Hamburg for training camps in Pakistan (see March 5, 2009). Some of them were later arrested and confessed to being involved in a plot to attack targets in Europe. German intelligence officials say that Darkazanli was closely tied to Ahmad Sidiqi and Naamen Meziche, two leaders of the group. (And Meziche appears to have been part of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell before 9/11, but he was never charged with any crime.) Murck believes Darkazanli inspired this latest group of militant recruits, but carefully did so in a way that did not break any laws. He says: “When it comes to the last speeches [Darkazanli] gave them, he told them, ‘Allah help to kill our enemies…’ so it was very general, it was not, ‘Let’s kill that one, or destroy that city.’ It was more a general cry for help to Allah to help the brothers against the enemies, but it was not enough for our police to open an investigation against him.” The Al-Quds mosque was shut down in August 2010 (see August 9, 2010), but German officials are worried that Darkazanli may start preaching at another mosque, which could start a new legal battle. [CNN, 11/11/2010]
CIA Director Leon Panetta briefs President Obama about the intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama first learned about the compound in September (see September 1, 2010), but now Panetta gives his most persuasive argument on why bin Laden is likely to be hiding in the compound. Obama asks Panetta to come up with a plan for action. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011]
Some leaders of US Congress are briefed about intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will later say: “We were briefed about suspicions about the size, about the structure of the compound, about the absence of people going in or out. We were actually shown overhead long distance photos from the air and we were essentially told that there were suspicions, serious suspicions, that this may be the place where Osama bin Laden was and that there was a 24/7 oversight of this compound.” [Time, 5/3/2011] It is likely that all of the “Big 8”—the leaders of each party in the House and Senate and the top lawmakers from each party on the House and Senate intelligence committees—are informed about the intelligence. They will continue to receive periodic updates up until the raid that kills bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). They will get calls from CIA Director Leon Panetta two days before the raid saying that the action against bin Laden is likely to take place soon. [Time, 5/3/2011; Politico, 5/3/2011]
Vice Admiral William McRaven. [Source: CBS News]Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, meets with intelligence officials at CIA headquarters and is shown photographs and maps of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. McRaven is one of the first military officers to be told the highly classified intelligence. He begins planning options on how the US could kill or capture bin Laden (if bin Laden is in the compound). McRaven assigns an unnamed Navy captain from SEAL Team 6 to work on the options. The captain will work daily with CIA officials on the plans. McRaven and his associates will come up with three main options on how to raid the compound (see March 14, 2011). [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
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
By mid-February 2011, top US officials are convinced that a “high-value target” is hiding in the recently discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). If Osama bin Laden is not hiding there, someone nearly as important is. Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan will later say: “They were confident and their confidence was growing: ‘This is different. This intelligence case is different. What we see in this compound is different than anything we’ve ever seen before.‘… I was confident that we had the basis to take action.” President Obama decides he wants to take action. However, Obama still has to decide what to do exactly. The situation is a difficult one, because the compound is located deep inside Pakistan. He and his advisers will discuss options later in the month (see February 25, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama heads a National Security Council meeting to discuss possible courses of action against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama is presented with three basic courses of action that he can take:
Bombing Option - One is to have B-2 stealth bombers drop a few dozen 2,000-pound guided bombs on the compound. The stealth bombers would bomb the compound thoroughly to make sure bin Laden was killed, that all of the people in the compound, including women and children, would be killed, and many neighbors would probably be killed as well. The odds are good that nothing would remain of bin Laden, so it would be unlikely to find any of his DNA to firmly conclude he was killed.
Special Forces Option - The other is to have US Special Forces arrive by helicopter and then assault the compound on the ground. This is considered the riskier option, because many things could go wrong and US soldiers could be killed. As ABC News will later comment: “The helicopters could be detected coming in. Bin Laden might be warned a few minutes out, and he could go into a hole, escape, set off a suicide vest, set a booby-trap bomb, prepare for a firefight.”
Pakistani Government Participation - Another option is a joint raid with Pakistani government forces. The US and Pakistan have successfully worked together on high-profile captures in the past, such as the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, in recent years, the US has stopped giving the Pakistani government advanced warning about the targets of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region, because of incidents where it appeared the targets were tipped off.
No Final Decision Yet - Obama decides not to involve Pakistan in the raid or even warn it in advance. He does not make up his mind between the remaining two options, the bombing raid and the Special Forces raid. He tells his advisers to act quickly with further preparations on both. He also rules out using more invasive measures to gather better intelligence on the compound, figuring that the potential gain is not worth the risk of discovery. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
President Obama meets again with the National Security Council to decide how to act on intelligence that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). Two weeks earlier, he had narrowed down the options to two: bomb the compound with stealth bombers and thus completely destroy it, or send in US Special Forces by helicopter and kill bin Laden with a ground assault (see March 14, 2011). Since that meeting, CIA analysts have been unable to rule out the possibility that there is a tunnel network under the compound. To be sure tunnels could not be used to escape, the amount of bombing on the compound would need to be greatly increased. At least one nearby house would be in the blast radius and probably a dozen or so neighbors would be killed. Furthermore, the heavy bombing would make it even less likely that DNA evidence could be acquired to prove that bin Laden had been killed. By the end of the meeting, Obama rules out the bombing option, leaving only the Special Forces helicopter raid option. He tells Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, to come back to him by April 18 with a more detailed helicopter raid plan and an opinion on how likely such a plan would be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Five weeks later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
The US military prepares a Special Forces helicopter raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). On March 29, President Obama tasked Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, with preparing the raid (see March 29, 2011). McRaven picks members of Red Squadron, one of four squads on Navy SEAL Team Six, to take part in the raid. The team members chosen have relevant language experience and are veterans of secret operations into Pakistan. On April 7 and April 13, the SEALs stage two rehearsals in the US on a replica of the compound. The participants still do not know the target of the planned raid. On April 19, McRaven briefs President Obama on how the plan is developing (see April 19, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Less than a month later, the strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
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]
CIA Director Leon Panetta meets with Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The meeting, at CIA headquarters, is meant to help repair relations between tUS and Pakistan. A CIA contractor named Raymond Davis caused a major diplomatic crisis after he shot and killed two Pakistanis in disputed circumstances. He was held in Pakistan for two months and released on March 16. Pasha asks Panetta to be more forthcoming about what the CIA is doing in Pakistan. Panetta promises to respond to Pasha’s concerns. But at the time, the US government is secretly planning to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011), and Panetta does not say a word about this. His goal is to appease Pasha so relations with Pakistan will be improved by the time the bin Laden raid takes place. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Bin Laden will be killed less than a month later (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama is briefed again on how the plan to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is progressing. Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, has been preparing a raid by Navy SEAL Team Six, and he updates Obama on the latest preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama mostly discusses the contingency plans for the many things that could go wrong. For instance, what if the helicopters transporting the SEAL team crash? Or what if the Pakistani military reacts quickly and attacks the team? McRaven says he plans to have a quick reaction force nearby to help extract the team if things go horribly wrong. Also, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to call General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, and implore him not to attack the team, if it looks like Pakistan is on the verge of doing so. But no one can be sure how Pakistan will react in such a situation. Nevertheless, plans for the raid continue to advance. [ABC News, 6/9/2011] Two weeks later, a Navy SEAL Team Six strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
The non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks releases documents that may inadvertently speed up the timing of the US effort to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout. WikiLeaks releases secret military dossiers on about 750 prisoners held at the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba (see April 24, 2011). These documents cover nearly every prisoner held at Guantanamo since the prison opened there in 2002. All the dossiers are published in full and are easily accessible on well known websites, including those of the New York Times, The Guardian, and WikiLeaks. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Mentions of Ahmed - Numerous dossiers mention “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti,” or some variant on that name. This will later be revealed as a commonly used alias for Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, a trusted courier for bin Laden. In the dossiers, Ahmed is seen as an important al-Qaeda figure and a courier for important al-Qaeda leaders. [Express Tribune, 5/4/2011]
Mentions of Abbottabad - Even more crucially, the dossiers reveal al-Qaeda activity in Abbottabad, the Pakistan town where bin Laden is hiding at this time. For instance, the dossier on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi states: “In July 2003, al-Libbi received a letter from Osama bin Laden’s designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan.… In mid-2003, al-Libbi moved his family to Abbottabad, and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.” [Daily Mail, 5/3/2011]
Data in the Dossiers Lead to Bin Laden - In fact, the courier mentioned as “Jan” appears to be Ahmed. “Jan” was a name al-Libbi made up in his interrogations in order to protect Ahmed. US intelligence had figured this out by late 2005. US analysts were able to use information on Ahmed from the interrogation of al-Libbi and other Guantanamo prisoners to find the exact location of bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout in 2010 (see August-September 2010). Bin Laden will be killed by a US Special Forces raid on his hideout on May 2, 2011, eight days after the dossiers are made public (see May 2, 2011).
Influence on Raid Timing or Not? - The Daily Mail will later suggest: “WikiLeaks may have triggered the killing of Osama bin Laden.… [S]pecial Forces stormed his fortress only days after the website published new secret documents.” [Daily Mail, 5/3/2011] Time magazine will say that according to an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), “Though there may have been a reference to the compound in one of WikiLeaks’ classified document dumps, there wasn’t a serious concern that the information had become widely known through that source.” [Time, 5/3/2011] Plans for the raid were already well developed before the Wikileaks release (see for instance March 14, 2011). President Obama gives the final okay for the raid on April 29, four days after the release (see April 29, 2011).
WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, releases some files on about 750 prisoners held at the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. This covers all but about 15 of the prisoners who have passed through the prison since it opened in early 2002 (see January 11, 2002). Nearly all of the prisoners were accused of belonging to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or associated Islamist militant groups. The files were written by US military intelligence officials between the prison’s opening and January 2009. They contain assessments on whether each prisoner should remain in US custody, be imprisoned by another country, or be set free. Most of the prisoners have been released over the years, and no new prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2007, but 172 prisoners remain at Guantanamo in April 2011. Seven news organizations—the New York Times, The Guardian, McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and NPR (National Public Radio)—were given early access to the files by WikiLeaks in order to vet and analyze them. Their publication was sped up when the New York Times prepared to publish them after claiming to get copies of them from another unnamed source. The Obama administration immediately condemns the publication of the classified information in the files. [New York Times, 4/24/2011; New Yorker, 4/25/2011]
Files Often Contain Dubious Evidence - Journalists who analyze the files question the accuracy of their prisoner assessments. The New York Times comments that the files “show that the United States has imprisoned hundreds of men for years without trial based on a difficult and strikingly subjective evaluation of who they were, what they had done in the past, and what they might do in the future.” Furthermore, the files “reveal that the analysts sometimes ignored serious flaws in the evidence—for example, that the information came from other detainees whose mental illness made them unreliable. Some assessments quote witnesses who say they saw a detainee at a camp run by al-Qaeda but omit the witnesses’ record of falsehood or misidentification. They include detainees’ admissions without acknowledging other government documents that show the statements were later withdrawn, often attributed to abusive treatment or torture.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] The Guardian comments that Guantanamo has been “a place that portrayed itself as the ultimate expression of a forensic and rational war run by the most sophisticated power on the planet, with the best intelligence available. The reality was an almost random collection of [prisoners who were] the bad, the accidental, and the irrelevant.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011] McClatchy Newspapers comments: “The world may have thought the US was detaining a band of international terrorists whose questioning would help the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or foil the next 9/11. But [the files] not meant to surface for another 20 years shows that the military’s efforts at Guantanamo often were much less effective than the government has acknowledged. Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America’s experiment at Guantanamo ‘quite simply a mess.’”
Files Dependant on Dubious Informants - McClatchy further claims that the files were “tremendously dependant on informants—both prison camp snitches repeating what they’d heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al-Qaeda insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.” The information in the files is based on other sources, including intelligence documents and some confessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011] The New York Times similarly comments that “Guantanamo emerges from the documents as a nest of informants, a closed world where detainees were the main source of allegations against one another and sudden recollections of having spotted a fellow prisoner at an al-Qaeda training camp could curry favor with interrogators.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Files Also Based on Torture and Legally Questionable Methods - The files rarely mention the abuse and torture scandals concerning treatment of US prisoners in Guantanamo, in secret CIA prisons, in other overseas US-run prisons, and in prisons run by some US allies where the use of torture was more widespread. However, there are hints. For instance, one file on an Australian man sent to Guantanamo in 2002 mentions that he confessed while “under extreme duress” and “in the custody of the Egyptian government” to training six of the 9/11 hijackers in martial arts. But despite the apparent seriousness of this accusation, he was released in early 2005. Additionally, important prisoners such as Abu Zubaida held in secret CIA prisons were shown photos of Guantanamo prisoners and asked about them around the time they were subjected to waterboarding and other torture methods. The interrogations of Zubaida, who was waterboarded many times (see May 2003), are cited in over 100 prisoner files. However, his accusations against others have been systematically removed from government filings in court cases in recent years, which would indicate that officials are increasingly doubtful about his reliability and/or the legality of his tortured confessions. Also, many foreign officials were allowed to interrogate some prisoners in Guantanamo, including officials from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, and Tajikistan. Information in some files comes from these legally questionable interrogation sessions. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] One well-known case of torture involved Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th 9/11 hijacker (see December 2001). While being held in Guantanamo, he was interrogated for months with techniques that the senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trial later said legally met the definition of torture (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). His file says, “Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention,” his confessions “appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources.” Claims al-Khatani made regarding 16 other Guantanamo prisoners are mentioned in their files without any caveats about the interrogation methods used on him. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
Some Prisoners Unjustly Held - Some prisoners appear to be clearly innocent, and yet they often were held for years before being released. Some prisoners are still being held even though their files indicate that their interrogators are not even sure of their identities. In some cases, prisoners were held for years not because they were suspected of any crime, but because it was thought they knew useful information. For instance, files show one prisoner was sent to Guantanamo because of what he knew about the secret service of Uzbekistan. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/2011; New York Times, 4/24/2011] In a cruel twist of fate, one man, Jamal al-Harith, appears to have been imprisoned mainly because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban. His file states, “He was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics.” [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Prisoner Releases Based More on Luck than Evidence - The New York Times claims the determination of which prisoners were released has mostly been a “lottery” that was largely based on which country the prisoner came from. “Most European inmates were sent home, despite grave qualms on the analysts’ part. Saudis went home, even some of the most militant, to enter the rehabilitation program; some would graduate and then join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemenis have generally stayed put, even those cleared for release, because of the chaos in their country. Even in clearly mistaken arrests, release could be slow.” [New York Times, 4/24/2011] In 2009, the new Obama administration put together a task force that re-evaluated the 240 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo. However, these more recent assessments remain secret. [New York Times, 4/24/2011]
President Obama meets with his national security team again as preparations to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near their final stages. The main concern remains contingency plans in case things go horribly wrong. It is decided to use four helicopters instead of two in the raid. (The two extra helicopters will be nearby in case of emergency.) US intelligence allegedly is still not 100 percent certain that bin Laden is at the compound, and Obama’s advisers have varying opinions:
Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, who has been leading the raid preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011), tells Obama that he thinks the raid will be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] (McRaven participates remotely, because he is already in Afghanistan making last minute arrangements with the raid team.)
According to one account, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is skeptical, but finally comes out in favor of the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Another account says Gates still thinks the intelligence isn’t strong enough. [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says he thinks the odds are less than 50 percent that bin Laden is there.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan is in favor of going ahead with the raid.
CIA Director Leon Panetta also is in favor. He says the odds of bin Laden being there are between about 60 and 80 percent. He also says that the “red team”—analysts only recently brought in on the intelligence on the compound to get an outside opinion—agree that bin Laden is probably in the compound.
Obama reportedly puts the odds at about 55 percent. At the end of the meeting, he reportedly says, “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now—I’m going to go back and think about it some more.” But he adds, “I’m going to make a decision soon.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
In the evening, President Obama meets with his national security team to make final preparations for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama meets with four advisers: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, and chief of staff Bill Daley. As the meeting begins, Obama tells them he has finally given approval for the raid. He says, “It’s a go.” The raid is planned to take place the next day. However, officials warn that because of cloudy weather, the raid probably will be delayed one day to May 1 (which is May 2 in Pakistan). That will turn out to be the case (see May 2, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
In the immediate aftermath of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), Pakistani police detain up to 200 people in the Abbottabad area. Police are looking for anyone who knew Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, the courier who lived in the same compound with bin Laden, or his brother Abrar, who also lived in that compound. (Note that locally they were known by the aliases Arshad Khan and Tariq Khan, respectively.) Both men died in the US raid, but police are hoping to find accomplices. One Pakistani official says 31 have been arrested, but another official says as many as 200 have been. Pakistani police have a history in situations like this of detaining many people for questioning and then releasing most of them later without charge. One man detained, known locally as Tahir Javed, is said to have been the main contractor who built bin Laden’s compound in 2005 (see January 22, 2004-2005). He is quickly released. Other people detained are a major local landowner named Shamroz and his two sons. Neighbors says they are the people who knew those living in the compound the best. [ABC News, 5/6/2011] A follow-up story on June 28 will state that most of those detained have since been released, including Shamroz. It is not known if Pakistani officials still hold or suspect any neighbors at that time. [McClatchy Newspapers, 6/28/2011]
In the days and hours after the US Special Forces raid that kills Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout (see May 2, 2011), some US officials question whether anyone within the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding there.
John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism adviser, says that bin Laden’s presence in the Abbottabad compound “raises questions” about what some Pakistani officials might have known. He adds that while Pakistani officials “seem surprised” to hear that bin Laden was hiding there, he wonders how “a compound of that size in that area” could exist without arousing suspicions.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who was investigating al-Qaeda well before 9/11, notes that Abbottabad is heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers. He says, “There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) similarly comments, “The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan’s capital is astounding—and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him.” [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she is troubled by the possibility that the Pakistani government may be engaging in “duplicitous behavior” with the US. “It would be very difficult [for bin Laden] to live there for up to five or six years and no one know [he’s] there. I would have a hard time believing that they did not know,” she says. As chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [Time, 5/3/2011]
An anonymous senior Obama administration official says, “It’s hard to believe that [General Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and [Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha actually knew that bin Laden was there.” Kayani is the head of the Pakistani army and Pasha is the head of the ISI. “[But] there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, says, “I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll find that there were former members of the Pakistani military and military intelligence who were sympathizers with al-Qaeda and with various other terrorist groups, and that they were running their own sort of renegade support system for al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 5/7/2011]
About one month after bin Laden’s death, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) says he believes elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military protected bin Laden. He says this is based on “information I’ve seen.” As chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, he is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. He adds that he has not seen any evidence that top Pakistani civilian or military leaders were involved in hiding bin Laden. [New York Times, 6/14/2011]
Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says that some members of the ISI or Pakistan’s military were involved in hiding bin Laden. As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he also is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
However, most US officials are hesitant to openly accuse Pakistan, for political reasons. The New York Times reports, “One [unnamed] senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about bin Laden’s whereabouts.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011] Pakistani officials deny that the Pakistani government had any knowledge that bin Laden was living at the compound. [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Entity Tags: C.A. Ruppersberger, Dianne Feinstein, Ali Soufan, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Osama bin Laden, Frank R. Lautenberg, John O. Brennan, Mike Rogers, Pakistan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Shortly after the announcment of Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011), some commentators are surprised to find that bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is only 800 yards away from Kakul, an elite military academy that is Pakistan’s equivalent of the West Point academy in the US. [New York Times, 5/6/2011] This fact made targeting the compound with a drone strike very problematic. One unnamed CIA official says, “All [a drone-fired missile] has to be is about 1,000 yards off and it hits the Pakistan Military Academy.” Additionally, Abbottabad is home to two regimental compounds, and many military families live there. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Too Long Not to Know - Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official who now teaches at Columbia University, says that there was a tight net of security around Abbottabad because of concerns about terrorist attacks on the many sensitive military installations there. The town was thoroughly covered with security guards and soldiers. Abbas says, “If he was there since 2005, that is too long a time for local police and intelligence not to know.”
"Willful Blindness" at Best - Former CIA officer Arthur Keller, who worked on the search for bin Laden, says the locale of bin Laden’s compound raises questions. He says that bin Laden must have known that the area has a high concentration of military institutions, officers, and retired officers, including some from the ISI’s S Wing. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the S Wing is the part of the ISI many experts believe has worked with and protected some Islamist militant leaders (see March 26, 2009). Keller says that bin Laden also had to be aware that the town has a higher level of security, checkpoints, and so on, than many other Pakistani towns. While living near a military academy helped ensure bin Laden’s compound would not get hit by a US drone, there were safer towns to hide from drones. According to the New York Times, Keller does not understand why bin Laden would live in Abbottabad “unless he had some assurance of protection or patronage from military or intelligence officers.” Keller says, “At best, it was willful blindness on the part of the ISI.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
In the days after the US raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), neighbors to bin Laden’s compound are interviewed by journalists. The consensus appears to be that no neighbor claims to have suspected a prominent Islamist militant was living in the compound, much less bin Laden himself. Most thought the people in the compound were simply very religious and conservative. The inhabitants were seen as courteous, but distant and private. However, a lot of curious behavior was noticed that made people suspicious: [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/3/2011]
Neighbors called the compound the “Waziristan Mansion” because it was owned by a man believed to be from Waziristan. Waziristan is part of Pakistan’s tribal region near Afghanistan, and it is the area where most of al-Qaeda’s leadership was believed to be hiding. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
One local farmer says: “People were skeptical in this neighborhood about this place and these guys. They used to gossip, say they were smugglers or drug dealers. People would complain that even with such a big house they didn’t invite the poor or distribute charity.” [Associated Press, 5/3/2011]
A local ice cream vendor says: “If a ball went into bin Laden’s compound the children would not be allowed to get it. They were given money instead; 100-150 rupees ($2-$3) per ball.” This is several times more than the worth of such balls.
Anyone who leaned against any of the compound walls was warned to keep moving.
One local teen boy says, “There was a rumor in the neighborhood that the man who lived there was Baitullah Mahsud’s nephew.” (Mahsud was one of the militant leaders of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban.) [Australian, 5/3/2011]
The people in the compound give conflicting explanations for their wealth, and neighbors found this suspicious. For instance, one person in the compound says they had a hotel in Dubai managed by an uncle who sends them money. Another says they worked in the money-changing business. One man who frequently came and left the compound alternately told neighbors he was in the transportation business, or a contractor, or a money changer. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
The family never invited anyone inside the compound and never visited neighbors’ homes. However, they did attend prayers in the mosque and local funerals. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
One neighbor says, “We thought maybe they had killed someone back in their village or something like that and were therefore very cautious.” [New York Times, 5/7/2011]
An unnamed “senior intelligence official” claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has used Abbottabad, Pakistan, to hide assets in safehouses. “This area had been used as ISI’s safe house…” He even alleges the very compound Osama bin Laden hid in (see May 2, 2011) was used by the ISI, “but it was not under their use any more because they keep on changing their locations.” Another unnamed official says, “It may not be the same house, but the same compound or area [has been] used by the ISI.” It is not specified which country or countries these intelligence officials work for. [Gulf News, 5/3/2011]
Osama bin Laden’s killing by US forces on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) reignites the debate about the usefulness of the torture techniques used by US intelligence. The debate centers on how US intelligence learned about bin Laden’s location and whether the torture of prisoners helped find him.
Courier Provides the Key Lead - According to Obama administration officials, bin Laden was located through US intelligence agencies’ “patient and detailed intelligence analysis” of “a mosaic of sources,” including evidence garnered from detained inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The first clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts came when US intelligence learned of an al-Qaeda courier that worked with bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, who used the pseudonym “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” Ahmed is one of those killed during the Abbottabad raid. US intelligence had known of Ahmed since 2002, after a Kuwaiti detainee told interrogators about him, and it has taken this long for CIA and other intelligence officers to identify him, locate him, track his communications, and then follow him to the large and well fortified compound in Abbottabad.
Do Bush Administration Techniques Deserve Credit? - Some former Bush administration officials, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, claim that the Bush administration and not the Obama administration deserves the credit for finding bin Laden. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, said the first important leads about Kuwaiti came from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader at the time of his capture.” KSM was repeatedly waterboarded (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003). [Christian Science Monitor, 5/5/2011] Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey states that the path to bin Laden “began with a disclosure from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/2/2011]
Rebuttal from CIA Director Panetta - However, according to information in a letter CIA Director Leon Panetta sends to Senator John McCain, these assertions are false or misleading. In the letter, Panetta says: “Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one ‘essential and indispensible’ key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence—including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources—led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timely and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to bin Laden. Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2011]
Officials Says Torture Techinques Played No Role - Also, nine US military interrogators and intelligence officials state in an open letter: “The use of waterboarding and other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional US interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Reports say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.” [Human Rights First, 5/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, Osama bin Laden, Leon Panetta, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
The United States believes that at least a dozen senior leaders of al-Qaeda are on the run in Pakistan, according to Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI). He says, “Of the 20 senior leaders in al-Qaeda, at least a dozen of them we believe to be traveling around Pakistan someplace.” Rogers chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and is privy to secret intelligence not even most other members of Congress are briefed about. His comments come one day after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). The Telegraph publishes a list of the 12 wanted in Pakistan, which seems to be based on intelligence from Rogers:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and presumably the top al-Qaeda leader now that bin Laden has been killed.
Saif al-Adel. He possibly is al-Qaeda’s military chief. Possibly recently released from house arrest in Iran.
Suliman Abu Ghaith. He was al-Qaeda’s spokesperson until he was detained in Iran in 2002 or 2003. He apparently was allowed to leave in 2010 (see September 29, 2010), and it is believed he has rejoined al-Qaeda.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. He is said to be on al-Qaeda’s top council. He may also be in Iran.
Adnan Shukrijumah. He used to live in the US, and he may be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in North America.
Rashid Rauf. He was involved in a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain (see August 10, 2006). He escaped from a Pakistani prison in 2007 (see December 14, 2007), and was reported killed by a US drone attack in 2008 (see November 22, 2008), but some sources say he is still alive.
Ilyas Kashmiri. He is thought to have masterminded some recent attacks in India and Pakistan.
Hakimullah Mahsud. He is leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), a group said to be closely allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Ghulam Mustafa. He may have been al-Qaeda’s chief in Pakistan, but he was arrested and released twice by the Pakistani government between 2004 and 2006. Other militants now suspect him because of his suspiciously quick releases from prison, but he is still wanted by the US. [Asia Times, 1/5/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. He escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan in 2005 (see July 11, 2005), and has become a respected religious figure for al-Qaeda.
Anas al-Liby. The US has a $5 million reward for him. He may have been arrested in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Qari Saifullah Akhtar. He is the leader of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), a Pakistani militant group. He also is an alleged member of al-Qaeda who was released by Pakistan from custody in December 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Anas al-Liby, Adnan Shukrijumah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Suliman abu Ghaith, Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Rashid Rauf, Ilyas Kashmiri, Hakimullah Mahsud, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Mike Rogers, Ghulam Mustafa, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, Saif al-Adel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Three days after Osama bin Laden was allegedly killed by US special forces in Pakistan, President Obama is interviewed by CBS’s 60 Minutes. He is asked if he thinks anyone in the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding. He replies: “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was. We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.” He adds: “[T]hese are questions that we’re not gonna be able to answer three or four days after the event. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.” [60 Minutes, 5/8/2011; Daily Telegraph, 5/9/2011]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” [ABC News, 5/5/2011]
Amrullah Saleh, head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, from 2004 to 2010, claims that the Pakistani government is hiding the top Taliban leaders. He says that he is certain Taliban top head Mullah Omar is hiding in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, run by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. “He is protected by ISI. [ISI head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha knows as I am talking to you where is Mullah Omar and he keeps daily briefs from his officers about the location of senior Taliban leaders, simple.” [Guardian, 5/5/2011] Saleh’s comments come shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011).
A statement allegedly by al-Qaeda confirms the death of top al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and vows revenge. The statement is dated May 3, 2011, one day after the reported time of bin Laden’s death (see May 2, 2011), but it is posted on Islamist militant websites on May 6. The statement reads, in part: “The blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is too precious to us and to all Muslims to go in vain.… We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries.… Soon, God willing, their happiness will turn to sadness… their blood will be mingled with their tears.” The 11-paragraph statement emphasizes the continuation of al-Qaeda despite bin Laden’s death. “Sheik Osama didn’t build an organization to die when he dies.… The soldiers of Islam will continue in groups and united, plotting and planning without getting bored, tired, with determination, without giving up until striking a blow.” The statement’s authenticity cannot be independently confirmed, but it is posted on websites the group usually uses to put out its messages. [Associated Press, 5/6/2011]
Radio Free Europe reports that RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, had long known Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a major al-Qaeda and Taliban operations center. RAW had put the town on a list of such operations centers prior to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The article claims that “[t]he US was watching carefully as well.” For instance, Abbottabad was used by Islamic militant groups to train new recruits for at least a decade (see July 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011]
History of Militant Links - Several militant camps have existed near Abbottabad since the 1990s (see May 22, 2011). Key al-Qaeda leaders lived in the town around 2004, and US intelligence was aware of this (see 2004 and After April 2004). An important Indonesian militant leader, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011 (see January 25, 2011).
One day after bin Laden’s death, neighbors told the Wall Street Journal that there had been a recent influx of suspicious Arabs in the town. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
Completely Contradictory Accounts - On May 4, an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal that Abbottabad was “a place we always looked” because “we always figured that Osama bin Laden would not be in a cave.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2011] Yet, on May 5, an unnamed former US intelligence official involved in trying to find bin Laden told the Washington Post, “Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasn’t a stronghold.” The official added that when analysts considered likely locations for him, “Abbottabad wouldn’t be on that list.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells House members during a secret briefing that the Pakistani government was “either involved or incompetent,” regarding the hiding of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad for about five years (see May 2, 2011). This is according to two unnamed sources who attend the briefing. [CNN, 5/9/2011]
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).
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and associate killed in Somalia 2011. (It is not clear which body is Mohammed’s.) [Source: Farah Abdi Warsameh / Associated Press]Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), al-Qaeda’s alleged top leader in Eastern Africa, is killed in a shootout at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Fazul's Luck Runs Out - Fazul and another militant are driving in of militant-controlled parts Mogadishu at night, and they mistakenly drive up to a checkpoint run by opposing Somali government soldiers. They attempt to drive through the checkpoint, but they are shot and killed by the soldiers before they can escape. The soldiers initially have no idea who he is. But after they search the car and discover $40,000 in cash, several laptop computers, cell phones, and other equipment, they realize he must be an important foreigner. US officials then confirm his identity with a DNA test. A Somali security official says: “This was lucky. It wasn’t like Fazul was killed during an operation to get him. He was essentially driving around Mogadishu and got lost.”
Fazul's importance in East Africa - The US had put a $5 million bounty on Fazul, primarily because he was considered one of the masterminds of the 1998 US embassy bombings. He was also said to have played a key role in a 2002 Kenya bombing that killed fifteen. In addition to his role as long-time regional leader for al-Qaeda, it is said he also was a top field commander for the Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group in control of large parts of Somalia. He was involved in bomb attacks, helped raise money in the Arab world for Somali militants, and helped bring many militants from other countries to Somalia. He was from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, “Fazul’s death is a significant blow to al-Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa.” [New York Times, 6/11/2011]
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]
A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds that dozens of civilians have recently been killed in strikes by US drones in Pakistan. The study examined US drone strikes in Pakistan between August 23, 2010 and June 29, 2011 and uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died. There were a total of 116 attacks in this period. The Bureau says it has identified and can provide the family names for six children among those killed. According to the Bureau, at least 15 additional strikes warrant urgent investigation, with many more civilian deaths possible. The study was drafted in response to claims in June 2011 by President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan that “there hasn’t been a single collateral [civilian] death” in Pakistan since August 2010. The Bureau presented a summary of its findings to the White House and to John Brennan’s office, and asked for comment. Both declined. [Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 7/18/2011]
In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. [John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, 8/11/2011; Truthout (.org), 8/11/2011] Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).
Two CIA analysts, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky and Michael Anne Casey, who were involved in pre-9/11 intelligence failures and torture are named publicly for the first time, at the website Boiling Frogs Post (BFP). Bikowsky, now apparently head of the CIA’s Global Jihad Unit, made a false statement to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and was later involved in some of the CIA’s most notorious abuses (see After March 7, 2003 and Before January 23, 2004). Casey deliberately withheld information about two 9/11 hijackers from the FBI in January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). BFP obtained the two names from a document posted in error at the website secrecykills.com, which was set up to support an audio documentary about the intelligence failures before 9/11 entitled Who Is Rich Blee? (note: Blee was the former boss of both analysts). Due to threats previously made against them by the CIA, the documentary’s producers, John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, ask BFP to take down Casey’s name and BFP complies. However, Nowosielski will later name both women in an article posted at Salon. [Boiling Frogs Post, 9/21/2011; Salon, 10/14/2011] The two identities were found using information previously made available about the two and from Google searches. Bikowsky’s name was found by searching State Department nominations for her middle name, which was released by the Associated Press earlier in the year. Duffy and Nowosielski found Casey after learning she was the child of a CIA officer and theorising (incorrectly, as they later learned) that her father could have been former CIA Director William Casey. Her name also appears in State Department nominations, where they found it. [Salon, 10/14/2011]
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