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Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks out against the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the federal government wide latitude to incarcerate and interrogate “terror suspects” without charge or due process of the law (see October 17, 2006). Obama says that “political considerations” for the upcoming midterm elections played a significant role in the timing of the bill, but “what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics. This is serious. If this was a debate with obvious ideological differences—heartfelt convictions that couldn’t be settled by compromise—I would understand. But it’s not.” Obama notes that in five years of the Bush administration’s system of military tribunals, “not one terrorist has been tried. Not one has been convicted. And in the end, the Supreme Court of the United States found the whole thing unconstitutional (see June 30, 2006), which is why we’re here today. We could have fixed all of this in a way that allows us to detain and interrogate and try suspected terrorists while still protecting the accidentally accused from spending their lives locked away in Guantanamo Bay. Easily. This was not an either-or question.” Congress could have written and passed legislation that would have established “a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused,” one that would be in line with domestic law and the Geneva Conventions. Instead, “politics won today.… The administration got its vote, and now it will have its victory lap, and now they will be able to go out on the campaign trail and tell the American people that they were the ones who were tough on the terrorists.” Meanwhile, Obama says, questions about the efficacy and legality of the Bush system of justice persist, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping “while we look the other way,” and the administration is bent on fighting a war in Iraq “that our own government’s intelligence says is serving as al-Qaeda’s best recruitment tool.… This is not how a serious administration would approach the problem of terrorism.” [US Senate, 9/28/2006]
The above still is from the bin Laden speech footage released in late 2006, and the below still is from the film The Road to Guantanamo released in early 2006. The date stamps are 1/8/2000 and 8/1/2000. In the film it is speculated the speech could have been from January or August 2000. [Source: London Times / Sony Pictures]A new videotape showing bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, and Ziad Jarrah in Afghanistan before 9/11 is leaked to the media. NBC reports that the US military obtained the tape at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in late 2001. NBC filed a freedom of information act request for the video earlier in 2006, but still had not gotten copies when the London Times somehow got a copy and released it. [MSNBC, 9/30/2006] The Times will only say the video was passed to them “through a previously tested channel. On condition of anonymity, sources from both al-Qaeda and the United States have confirmed its authenticity.” There is no sound, and the Times claims that “lip-readers have failed to decipher it, according to a US source.” One part of the tape shows bin Laden addressing a crowd of about 100 followers on January 8, 2000. Another part of the tape shows Atta and Jarrah together at an Afghanistan training camp on January 18, 2000, apparently while they read their wills. [London Times, 10/1/2006] Ben Venzke, head of a group monitoring terrorism communications called the IntelCentre, says, “It is highly unlikely that al-Qaeda wanted the material to be released in this manner and it is not consistent with any previous release.” He notes that bin Laden previously said he was saving Atta’s last will for a special occasion. This release could have spoiled those plans. Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, finds it strange the cameraman focuses on bin Laden’s audience instead of on bin Laden, clearly identifying many of the people in the crowd. “Was this a video by al-Qaeda or by a security agency? I have never seen such a video.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2006] Further, it is noted on the Internet that footage of bin Laden’s speech is remarkably similar to footage of a bin Laden speech in The Road to Guantanamo, a docu-drama released in March 2006. While the film is mostly made up of reenactments, it is based on the real cases of several Guantanamo prisoners and shows one of them being asked to identify himself in the speech footage in 2003.
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, an alleged member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg, Germany, cell with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, is discovered in Syrian custody. It had been known that Zammar was arrested in late 2001 in Morocco and renditioned to Syria for likely torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). However, his imprisonment had never been officially admitted by the Syrian government and his exact location was unknown. But this month, a European Union official monitoring trials in Damascus, Syria, sees Zammar in a state security court and notifies the German Embassy. According to Guel Pinar, Zammar’s lawyer in Germany, if it had not been for the chance encounter, Zammar might have remained out of sight forever. “No one in the world would have known,” she will say. [Washington Post, 2/5/2007] Zammar has been secretly held without trial or charge for five years, but shortly after the sighting, he will be tried and sentenced (see February 11, 2007).
In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
Main elements of the CIA detention program;
Arrest and transfer;
Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
Other methods of ill-treatment;
Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
Prolonged stress standing;
Beatings by use of a collar;
Beating and kicking;
Confinement in a box;
Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Lieutenant General David Richards, the British general commanding NATO troops in Afghanistan, meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on October 9, 2006, in an effort to persuade him to stop the Pakistani ISI from training Taliban fighters to attack US and British soldiers in Afghanistan. The day before, he tells the Sunday Times there is “a Taliban problem on the Pakistan side of the border.… Undoubtedly something has got to happen.” Richards has evidence compiled by NATO, US, and Afghan intelligence of satellite pictures and videos showing training camps for Taliban soldiers and suicide bombers inside Pakistan. The evidence includes the exact address of where top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan. Richards wants Pakistan to arrest Omar and other Taliban leaders. One senior US commander tells the Times: “We just can’t ignore it any more. Musharraf’s got to prove which side he is on.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/8/2006] What happens between Richards and Musharraf is unknown, but there are no subsequent signs of the ISI reducing its support for the Taliban or of Pakistan arresting Taliban leaders.
The chart presented during the CENTCOM briefing. [Source: New York Times]A briefing by the US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Iraq is sliding towards a complete breakdown of order. The briefing features a chart used by the military as, in the words of New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, “a barometer of civil conflict.” Gordon describes the slide as providing “a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.” The briefing was prepared by CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate, overseen by Brigadier General John Custer. The slide contains a color-coded bar chart titled “Index of Civil Conflict,” which tracks the sharp rise in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in February (see February 22, 2006), and documents a subsequent rise in violence despite US efforts to contain conflicts in and around Baghdad. Gordon describes the chart as tracking, among other factors, “the ineffectual Iraqi police and the dwindling influence of moderate religious and political figures,” and not so much more traditional factors like “the enemy’s fighting strength and the control of territory.” The chart shows Iraq moving quickly away from “peace,” the ideal condition on the far left of the chart, to a point labeled “chaos” on the right side. Gordon notes, “As depicted in the command’s chart, the needle has been moving steadily toward the far right of the chart.” A CENTCOM official says, “Ever since the February attack on the Shiite mosque in Samarra, it has been closer to the chaos side than the peace side.” [New York Times, 11/1/2006]
John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, celebrates the passage of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Yoo writes that Congress has ordered “the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror.” The bill is not so much a victory for the presidency, Yoo writes, as it is a loss for the judiciary, a “stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” It supersedes the Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which Yoo calls “an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy… [a] stunning power grab.” Now, he writes: “Congress and the president did not take the court’s power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court’s habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions. The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.” Yoo had previously authored numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 10/19/2006]
In an interview with WDAY’s Scott Heinen, Vice President Dick Cheney says it was a “no-brainer for me” to authorize waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After and Summer 2003). Cheney says that since waterboarding and other brutal methods are not torture, as he defines the term (see Mid-March 2002), the entire issue is not really an issue. “We don’t torture,” he says. “That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to, and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 154-155; Financial Times, 10/26/2008] After Cheney’s statement causes a welter of criticism among lawmakers and media figures, the White House says Cheney was not talking about waterboarding, and insists that the US does not torture. Cheney calls reporters to bolster the denial. “I did not talk about specific techniques and won’t,” he says. “I didn’t say anything about waterboarding.… He [Heinen] didn’t even use that phrase.” Human Rights Watch says Cheney’s remarks are “the Bush administration’s first clear endorsement” of waterboarding. [Associated Press, 10/28/2006]
The Chenagai madrassa after the Predator strike. [Source: BBC]The US launches a Predator drone missile strike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Bajour district of Pakistan’s tribal region, then Pakistan sends in helicopters to attack the survivors. The aim is to kill al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he is not there. Pakistani officials initially claim that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are killed, including Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an operational leader. But the next day they only say that some Taliban members are killed. [ABC News, 10/30/2006; ABC News, 10/31/2006] The attack is said to have killed 82, many of them students at the madrassa located in Chenagai, a hamlet of Damadola village, which had been hit by a Predator strike earlier in the year (see January 13, 2006). [London Times, 11/26/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney says foreign terrorists in Iraq are launching a spate of attacks in order to influence the upcoming US midterm elections—in essence, accusing terrorists of trying to sway Americans to vote for Democrats. Al-Qaeda and other terror groups active in Iraq are trying to “break the will of the American people.” He continues, “They’re very sensitive to the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled.” He goes on to claim that terror attacks in Iraq are being scheduled to coincide with US election events and to garner maximum media coverage to impact the elections. He provides no evidence for this. October saw one of the highest death tolls for US forces since the invasion of March 2003. Republicans fear that bad news from Iraq will cost them seats in the US Congress. Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff echoes Cheney’s statements, saying that Islamist militants are trying to “increase opposition to the war and have an influence against the president.” White House officials add that the US media is deliberately focusing on the “bad” news of casualties, carnage, and terrorist attacks, and failing to cover the “good” news coming out of the occupation. The White House and the Pentagon are launching a new propaganda effort to use “new media” outlets such as blogs to spread their message and counter what they say is a sophisticated propaganda effort by Islamists to manipulate the news and affect the US elections. [BBC, 10/31/2006]
Shakir al-Abssi, a 51-year-old Palestinian militant and former associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leaves Syria and heads to the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refuge camp in Lebanon, where he establishes the new Sunni militant group Fatah al-Islam. Abssi’s departure coincides with a clamp-down in Syria against Islamic militant groups. By late March 2007, Abssi’s organization will boast a militia force of 150 fighters, roughly 50 of whom are Saudi Arabians or nationals from other Arab countries who have fought in the insurgency in Iraq. [Scotsman, 3/25/2007; Reuters, 3/25/2007]
Mounir El Motassadeq, a former associate of three of the 9/11 hijackers, is convicted of assisting the 9/11 attacks. The conviction is handed down by a federal appeals court in Germany, where El Motassadeq had known the hijackers. El Motassadeq had previously been convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization (see August 19, 2005), but was acquitted on similar charges of assisting the 9/11 attacks (see March 3, 2004). However, the appeals court decides this decision was wrong and that El Motassadeq should be convicted for being an accessory to the murders of the 246 people killed on the airliners on 9/11, although sentence should be imposed by a lower court. El Motassadeq admits having trained in Afghanistan and having known three of the hijackers—Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah—but says he knew nothing of their plans. However, the court finds he did know they intended to crash airliners and assisted the hijackers by transferring money to them and making it seem like they were still attending university in Germany. As El Motassadeq did not know the planned targets, he cannot be convicted of assisting the murders of the thousands of people who died in the World Trade Center and Pentagon. [New York Times, 1/9/2007; Associated Press, 1/9/2007] El Motassadeq will later be sentenced to 15 years in jail for the offense (see January 8, 2007).
On September 5, 2006, the government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with Taliban-linked militants in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as North Waziristan (see September 5, 2006), and President Bush quickly gave his public approval to the deal (see September 7, 2006). By November 2006, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, head of US forces in Afghanistan, says that the number of Taliban attacks out of North Waziristan has tripled since the deal was signed. On December 26, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher says, “The Taliban have been able to use [the tribal regions] for sanctuary, and for command and control, and for regrouping and supply.” The State Department decides that the deal has been a failure for US policy, just as two previous deals with militants in the border region had been. But the Pakistani government continues to stick to the terms of the deal well into 2007. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277]
The CIA acknowledges that it has operated under the rubric of two secret Bush administration documents that authorized it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas. Since 2004, the agency has refused to either confirm or deny the existence of the documents, and has argued in court that to make such an acknowledgement would jeopardize national security. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought the CIA in court over the documents, says in a statement by its executive director, Anthony Romero: “The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny. Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America. With a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command.” One of the documents is a secret executive order signed by President Bush authorizing the CIA to set up “black site” detention facilities overseas (see September 17, 2001), and the other is a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that CIA interrogators could use against top al-Qaeda suspects. In legal papers previously filed in court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an “interest” in interrogating detainees. Today, however, the agency acknowledges the existence of the two documents. It continues to withhold the documents themselves; their contents remain unknown to the public. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “We intend to press for the release of both of these documents. If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/14/2006]
Speaking publicly before a Congressional committee, CIA Director Michael Hayden says that “the lessons learned in Iraq are being applied to Afghanistan” by al-Qaeda. For instance, the number of suicide bombings in Afghanistan is greatly increasing (see 2004-2007). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 282, 442] The Taliban also greatly increase the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the roadside bombs which have proven highly effective in Iraq. The use of IED bombings rises from 530 times in 2005 to 1,297 in 2006. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 367]
President Bush issues a “non-lethal presidential finding” permitting the CIA to provide financial and logistical support to Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora. The classified presidential order “authorizes the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to fund anti-Hezbollah groups in Lebanon and pay for activists who support the Siniora government,” the London Telegraph reports. “The secrecy of the finding [order] means that US involvement in the activities is officially deniable.” Some of the activist groups that will be supported by this policy will include Sunni militant groups who have ideological ties with al-Qaeda (see, e.g., Late 2006 or Early 2007 and Late 2006 or Early 2007). [Daily Telegraph, 1/10/2007] In February 2007, a senior official in the Siniora government, will candidly admit in an interview with Seymour Hersh, “We have a liberal attitude that allows al-Qaeda types to have a presence here.” [New Yorker, 3/5/2007] The president’s order is part of a larger policy shift (see Late 2006) that has aligned the US with the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as Israel, to undercut Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East. As one intelligence source of the Telegraph explains, “There’s a feeling both in Jerusalem and in Riyadh that the anti-Sunni tilt in the region has gone too far. By removing Saddam, we’ve shifted things in favor of the Shia and this is a counter-balancing exercise.” The source adds, “The administration is reaping its own whirlwind after Iraq. For 50 years the US preferred stability over legitimacy in the Middle East and now it’s got neither. It’s a situation replete with ironies.” [Daily Telegraph, 1/10/2007]
A “democracy and public diplomacy” working group at the State Department drafts a
two-page document discussing ways the US can support Syrian activists who oppose President Bashar al-Assad. The document, which notes that the US is already “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe, says that the country’s upcoming March 2007 elections “provide a potentially galvanizing issue for… critics of the Assad regime.” It proposes a secret “election monitoring” plan, in which “Internet accessible materials will be available for printing and dissemination by activists inside the country [Syria] and neighboring countries.” The operation would also involve providing financial backing to an opposition candidate, as well as funding “voter education campaigns” and public opinion polling. The document makes it clear that the efforts would be clandestine. “Any information regarding funding for domestic [Syrian] politicians for elections monitoring would have to be protected from public dissemination,” it says. Funding for the program would apparently be funneled through the International Republican Institute through a State Department program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. Time, which is the first to report on the memo, quotes one US official familiar with the document who says, “You are forced to wonder whether we are now trying to destabilize the Syrian government.” Joshua Landis, a Syria expert who is co-director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells the magazine the proposed operation is “really just an attempt to pressure the Syrian government” into doing what the US wants. [Time, 12/19/2006]
The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program launches an advertising campaign in dozens of airports in the US. The program distributes hundreds of wanted posters featuring al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden. But strangely, the campaign is limited to the US and includes such airports as Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which are not locations frequented by al-Qaeda leaders. Walter Deering, head of the Rewards for Justice program until 2003, will later point out that advertising in the wrong places can bog down investigators with false leads. “We’d get a lot of tips that were totally off the wall.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2008] Most al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. But since at least the start of 2004, the Rewards for Justice program has been conducting little to no advertising in Pakistan (see January 2004).
Rashid Rauf in Pakistani custody. [Source: Farooq Naeem / Agence France-Presse]Terrorism charges are dropped in Pakistan against British-Pakistani militant Rashid Rauf, but he remains imprisoned there. Held since early August, Rauf was part of a British-based plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). British officials have been seeking his extradition for five months, and the decision not to prosecute him in Pakistan on the charges apparently clears the way for him to be returned to Britain; although there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Britain, Pakistani officials indicate they are ready to send Rauf home. However, Rauf, who has denied any links with terrorism, still has to face trial next week on charges of carrying fake identity documents. His lawyer Hashmat Habib says the court’s decision to drop the terror charges clears Rauf of involvement in any bomb plots, and characterises the fake ID charges as “minor.” On the contrary, Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz says he will contest the court’s decision and insists Rauf had been involved in planning terrorist activities. “We did recover hydrogen peroxide from his possession and concentrated hydrogen peroxide mixed with gas can cause explosions,” he says. [Times (London), 4/12/2009] Rauf will escape prison in late 2007 in mysterious circumstances (see December 14, 2007).
Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a high ranking Taliban leader, is reportedly killed in Afghanistan by a US air strike. Osmani is easily the highest-ranking Taliban leader to have killed or captured since 9/11. He was in charge of Taliban operations in six provinces in Afghanistan. A Taliban official confirms his death a few days later. According to news reports, British and US forces tracked him by his satellite phone signal and bombed his vehicle once he was in an unpopulated area. [London Times, 12/24/2006; CBC News, 12/27/2006] Osmani was captured in 2002 but then apparently accidentally released a short time later (see Late July 2002).
On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” [Time, 11/29/2007] The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. [New York Times, 2/23/2007] A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. [Washington Post, 1/8/2007; Time, 11/29/2007] By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. [Time, 11/29/2007]
Lebanese internal-security forces and militias supportive of the Lebanese government provide the Sunni militant group Asbat al-Ansar with large amounts of cash. Large sums of money are reportedly flowing to the Lebanese government as a result of the White House’s recent decision (see Late 2006) to redirect its policy in the Middle East toward efforts that will counter Iran’s growing influence in the region. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
Representatives of the Lebanese government reportedly approach the newly-formed Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam (see November 2006) and offer it weapons and cash to fight against Hezbollah. Lebanon is said to be flush with cash as a result of a new US policy (see Late 2006) aimed at undercutting the growing influence of Iran and Shiite militant groups in the region. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence. [Source: Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence]An analysis by Swiss researchers casts doubt on the authenticity of over a dozen of the more recent communications allegedly made by Osama bin Laden. According to a 2009 article in the American Spectator (see March 2009), the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Manno, Switzerland, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compares the voices on 15 undisputedly authentic earlier recordings of bin Laden with the voices on 15 more recent recordings that have been attributed to the al-Qaeda leader. The researchers find that all of the more recent, alleged bin Laden recordings clearly differ from each other and from the genuine earlier recordings. This would therefore indicate that these more recent recordings have been faked. In contrast to the Dalle Molle Institute, the CIA found all of the recordings to be authentic. Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, will comment, “It is hard to imagine what methodology might support [the CIA’s] conclusion.” [American Spectator, 3/2009] The American Spectator will be the only publication to report this analysis. An analysis by the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in November 2002, of an audio recording allegedly made by bin Laden around that time, concluded that the recording was likely a fake (see November 29, 2002). [Guardian, 11/30/2002]
CIA officer Arthur Keller allegedly hears rumors in 2007 that Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group, is assisting Osama bin Laden with logistics in helping him hide somewhere inside Pakistan. Harkat will later be linked to the courier who lives with bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout until the US raid that kills bin Laden in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The group also has long-standing ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Keller had worked for the CIA in Pakistan in 2006. By 2011, he will have retired from the CIA and will tell his account about these rumors to the New York Times. Another US intelligence official will note that members of Harkat may have helped bin Laden without being aware who exactly they were helping or where he was hiding. It is unclear if the CIA investigates possible links between Harkat and bin Laden at this time, or later. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Afghan intelligence allegedly suggests that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a town very close to Abbottabad, Pakistan, but the Pakistani government will not listen. Shortly after bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad in 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amrullah Saleh, who from 2004 to 2010 was head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, will claim that in 2007, the NDS identified two al-Qaeda safe houses in the town of Manshera. Manshera is only about 13 miles from Abbottabad. Saleh brought this information up in a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also in 2007. But Saleh says that Musharraf was outraged at the suggestion that bin Laden would be able to hide so far inside Pakistan. Musharraf allegedly smashed his fist on a table. “He said, ‘Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?’ Then he turned to President Karzai and said, ‘Why have you have brought this Panjshiri guy to teach me intelligence?’” Saleh says Karzai had to physically intervene after Musharraf started to physically threaten Saleh. [Guardian, 5/5/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
US intelligence learns al-Qaeda courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real full name. According to later media reports, his real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for Osama bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] An unnamed US official will cryptically say that the crucial intelligence on his real name comes not from Pakistan, but “from a different part of the world.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
Intel from Ahmed's Family? - Apparently, around 2006, US intelligence somehow learned his real last name (see (2006)). But since “Ahmed” is a common name in many countries, more work was needed to learn the rest of his name. It appears that intelligence comes from learning about his family. The New York Times will later report that after his last name was discovered, analysts “turned to one of their greatest investigative tools—the National Security Agency (NSA) began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got [Ahmed’s] full name.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011]
How Did US Intelligence Know about His Family? - The exact sequence of events of how analysts learn who his family is will not be revealed. But the “al-Kuwaiti” in Ahmed’s “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” alias obviously refers to Kuwait, and US intelligence learn at some point from other prisoners that Ahmed’s parents had moved to Kuwait (even though he originally was from Pakistan). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Could Ahmed's Father Be Important Al-Qaeda Figure? - It will later be reported that Ahmed’s father was close to bin Laden. This still unnamed father, who lived and worked in Kuwait, allegedly had a trusting relationship with bin Laden going back 30 to 40 years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Perhaps this is not relevant, but if US intelligence already had some intelligence on Ahmed’s father, this could have narrowed down the search of Pakistani-linked families living in Kuwait.
Real Name Will Lead to Location - It is unclear when, but the NSA eventually starts tracking the phone calls of Ahmed’s relatives in the Persian Gulf to anyone they call in Pakistan. Later, the NSA will be able to figure out Ahmed’s location in Pakistan from one such phone call (see Summer 2009). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
In 2007, when General Nadeem Taj becomes head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, he allows “a number of radical ideologues associated with jihadist groups to use Abbottabad as a transit hub.” One such person is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, head of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group sometimes linked to both the ISI and al-Qaeda. This is according to a London Times article published shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [London Times, 5/8/2011] Prior to heading the ISI, Taj was the commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, which is only 800 yards from the Abbottabad compound Osama bin Laden hid in starting around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). Taj started that job in April 2006. [News (Islamabad), 4/24/2006] On September 29, 2008, it will be reported that the US is intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. [Australian, 9/29/2008] Taj will be replaced by Ahmed Shuja Pasha one day later (see September 30, 2008). [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] Some will later say that the ISI had to have known that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad (see May 2, 2011 and After).
Some time this year, Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany along with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, speaks to his mother on the telephone, the New York Times will report in 2009. Anneliese Bahaji, Bahaji’s mother living in Germany, will tell the Times that in 2007, Bahaji “said he just wanted to call and say he’s still alive.” She will mention that he does not say where he is, and she does not hear from him afterwards. In October 2009, there will be renewed interest in Bahaji after his German passport is found in the tribal region of Pakistan (see Late October 2009). Bahaji’s mother will also mention that Said has a Moroccan passport, and he may travel using that. [New York Times, 10/30/2009] Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). However, the US has never put a bounty on him, or even put him on their most wanted lists, despite reports that he had a key role in supporting the 9/11 attacks. [CNN, 10/30/2009]
Mullah Bakht Mohammed. [Source: Al-Jazeera]Britain spends more than £1.5 million (approximately $2.4 million) in Afghanistan in a scheme to bribe members of the Taliban to stop fighting and abandon their ranks. Yet the operation fails to persuade any significant Taliban members to defect, attracts mostly lower-level foot soldiers, and results in no decrease in fighting in Helmand Province. “It hasn’t had the results we’d hoped,” admits a senior British Foreign Office official, “though not for want of effort on our part.” The money is allocated in January and May through intelligence agencies and the UN-backed peace strengthening commission after the killings of two top Taliban commanders and ruling shura members, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani and Mullah Dadullah Akhund (see December 19, 2006 and May 13, 2007). The funds are disbursed with the intention of capitalizing on a dip in Taliban morale and anticipated defections referred to as the “Dadullah effect.” The money is used to “spread this message” and pay for housing and transport for any Taliban who decide to defect. The Sunday Times reports that efforts to use Dadullah’s death to warn others were likely undermined by the Afghan government’s release of five Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Dadullah’s brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, in return for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Mullah Bakht Mohammed is now believed to be commanding Taliban operations in Helmand. The Sunday Times report does not mention if or how the bribe money is accounted for, or if any of the money is diverted to Taliban structures. [Sunday Times (London), 7/22/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases FBI documents detailing 26 eyewitness accounts of prisoners abused by US personnel at Guantanamo. The FBI chose not to follow up 17 of the accounts. “These documents contain eyewitness FBI accounts of prisoner abuse which cannot be dismissed by the administration, and only underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US controlled detention facilities,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “The documents also call into question the FBI’s apparent decision to not follow up on prisoner abuses by Defense Department personnel. The fact that Defense Department policy allowed this treatment does not mean that it was legal, humane, or ethical.” The documents, compiled by FBI investigators after the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, contain eyewitness accounts by guards and interrogators of “aggressive mistreatment, interrogations, or interview techniques of GTMO detainees by representatives of any law enforcement, military, or bureau personnel which were not consistent with bureau guidelines.” Many of the eyewitness accounts focus on insulting the detainees’ religion:
Interrogators wrapped one detainee’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran.”
An interrogator bragged about forcing a detainee to listen to “satanic black metal music for hours and hours.” That same interrogator later “dressed as a Catholic priest and baptized the detainee in order to save him.”
A Marine captain was observed enraging a detainee by squatting over a Koran in a fashion that the prisoner found extremely offensive.
After compiling these accounts, the FBI apparently chose not to pursue them further, citing the fact that what it observed was authorized by Defense Department policies. Only nine of the 26 accounts were slated for follow-up investigations. One incident marked “no further interview necessary” involved draping an Israeli flag around a detainee, shackling detainees to the floor, and subjecting them to excruciatingly loud music and strobe lights. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer says: “The FBI appears to have turned a blind eye to the very abuses that most need investigating—those abuses that were expressly authorized by Defense Department policy. The FBI documents only remind us that a thorough and independent investigation is long overdue.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/3/2007]
Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio message, entitled “Set Out and Support Your Brothers in Somalia.” The audio comes with a video still of al-Zawahiri from one of his previous videos, lasts for five and a half minutes, and was produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab. “You have to use ambushes and mines, and raids and suicidal attacks until you rend and eat your prey as the lion does with his prey,” says al-Zawahiri, who calls on Muslims everywhere—but specifically those in Yemen, the Arab Peninsula, Egypt, North Africa, and Sudan—to participate in a holy war against secular government and Ethiopian forces in Somalia. According to al-Zawahiri, Somalia needs men, experience, money, and advice to defeat the Ethiopian forces, which he calls the “slaves of America.” Addressing Somali Muslims directly, al-Zawahiri reminds them of US intervention in Somalia between 1992 and 1994, saying that America has been defeated before (see October 3-4, 1993), and due to terrorist strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American Army is relatively weaker. Al-Zawahiri also directly calls upon the youth of the radical Egyptian Islamic group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya to participate in the jihad. He states that these members joined the group to obey Allah, and if they are prevented from that duty, “they must crush the sarcophagus where they were embalmed alive.” [Fox News, 1/5/2007]
Mounir El Motassadeq, a former associate of three of the 9/11 hijackers, is sentenced to 15 years in prison in Germany. El Motassadeq was convicted of assisting the 9/11 attacks in November (see November 2006) and is currently serving a seven-year sentence for being a member of a terrorist organization (see August 19, 2005). The 15-year sentence is the maximum possible, as the conviction was only as an accessory to the deaths of the 246 people who died on the airliners. As El Motassadeq has already served three years, this period will be deducted from the sentence. Defense lawyers say they will appeal the conviction, and that the case may go all the way to the European Court of Justice. [New York Times, 1/9/2007; Associated Press, 1/9/2007]
The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/10/2007]
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte says that al-Qaeda’s central leadership is based in Pakistan and is regrouping there. Speaking before a Senate committee, he says that al-Qaeda operatives “are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.” This is the first time a high-ranking US official has described Pakistan as a “secure hide-out” for al-Qaeda or used similar language. He adds, “Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror and has captured several al-Qaeda leaders. However, it is also a major source of Islamic extremism. Eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan’s tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan but it is necessary.” [Reuters, 1/12/2007]
Muhammad Hanif confessing on video. [Source: BBC]A captured Taliban spokesman claims that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is living in Pakistan under the protection of the ISI. Muhammad Hanif, a.k.a. Abdul Haq Haji Gulroz, one of two Taliban spokesmen, was recently captured by the Afghan government. He is seen on video saying to his captors, “[Omar] lives in Quetta [a Pakistan border town]. He is protected by the ISI.” He further claims that the ISI funds and equips Taliban suicide bombings and former ISI Director Hamid Gul supports and funds the insurgency. The Pakistani government denies the allegations and claims Omar has not been seen in Pakistan. [BBC, 1/17/2007; Daily Telegraph, 1/19/2007]
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video, which is mostly focused on the situation in Iraq. In the 14-minute video the man said to be al-Zawahiri predicts a fate “worse than anything you have ever seen” for the US and wonders why only 20,000 additional troops are being sent to Iraq. “Why not send 50,000 or 100,000?” he asks. The man also says that the US “must honestly try to reach a mutual understanding with the Muslims,” adding: “If we are secure, you might be secure, and if we are safe, you might be safe. And if we are struck and killed, you will definitely—with Allah’s permission—be struck and killed.” [CNN, 1/23/2007]
Interpol’s bureau in Washington, DC, sends a bulletin about bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa to the FBI, the NSA, and the Department of Homeland Security, concerning an unnamed “project initiated to proactively target terrorism from captured terrorists.” The bulletin will later be released in heavily redacted form by the Intelwire.com website, and what else it says is unclear. Just four days later, Khalifa will be murdered in Madagascar in mysterious circumstances (see January 30, 2007). It is his first trip outside of Saudi Arabia since the 9/11 attacks. [Guardian, 3/2/2007]
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, brother-in-law and former best friend of Osama bin Laden, is killed in Madagascar. Khalifa’s family claims that a large group of armed men broke into his house and killed him as he slept. His computer and laptop is stolen. Khalifa was living in Saudi Arabia but traded precious stones and was staying at a mine that he owns. His family says they do not believe he had been killed by locals. There is considerable evidence Khalifa was involved in funding al-Qaeda-connected plots in the Philippines and Yemen in the 1990s (see December 16, 1994-February 1995, December 16, 1994-May 1995, and 1996-1997 and After). Since that time, Khalifa has steadfastly denied any involvement in terrorism and has criticized bin Laden. CNN reporter Nic Robertson asks, “Was he killed by bin Laden’s associates for speaking out against the al-Qaeda leader or, equally feasibly, by an international intelligence agency settling an old score?” Just one week earlier, a Philippine newspaper published a posthumous 2006 interview with Khaddafy Janjalani, former leader of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group in the southern Philippines. In the interview, Janjalani claimed Abu Sayyaf received $122,000 from Khalifa and bomber Ramzi Yousef in the mid-1990s (see Early 1991). [CNN, 1/31/2007; Reuters, 2/1/2007] And four days before his murder, Interpol put out a bulletin about him, notifying a number of US intelligence agencies (see January 26, 2007). [Guardian, 3/2/2007] His murderers have not been found or charged.
In his new book America at Night, author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb writes: “[O]ur government has spent trillions turning Iraq into the world’s largest terrorist training camp, while pursuing policies guaranteed to keep at least a billion people around the workd intensely pissed at us. Our military forces are so overstretched that, if any real threat emerges, we will risk being seen as a paper tiger. And in spite of all the blue ribbon panels and commissions, and the new layer of bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to make us safe at home, America is less safe now from terrorism and cataclysm than it ever was.” [Kolb, 2007, pp. 225-226]
The Bush administration is opposed to a bill in Congress that would link military aid for Pakistan to tackling the Taliban. The bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, calls for an end to military assistance to Pakistan unless it stops the Taliban from operating out of Pakistan. Administration officials say the bill would undermine the fostering of a closer relationship with Pakistan. [Reuters, 2/1/2007]
The International Committee of the Red Cross sends its report on the detention and torture of 14 detainees formerly in CIA custody (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo. The report is never intended to be made public, but it is documented in an article and subsequent book by Mark Danner (see March 15, 2009). [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
In early March 2007, the Pakistani government announces that a top Taliban official has been captured. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former defense minister, was supposedly captured on February 26, 2007, the same day that Vice President Cheney visited Pakistan, which the Associated Press says “has been under growing international pressure to crack down on Taliban militants believed to seek sanctuary on its soil.” If so, he would be the most senior Taliban leader ever captured since 9/11. However, the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick claims that one of its reporters interviewed him in Quetta, Pakistan on February 28, just two days after his supposed capture. SonntagsBlick writes, “The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee.” [Associated Press, 3/2/2007; Associated Press, 3/11/2007] He was also reportedly captured by the Northern Alliance in early 2002 and then released with US approval (see Early January 2002).
Shakir al-Abssi, leader of the recently formed Fatah al-Islam, is interviewed by the Scotsman. The 90-minute interview is his first with Western reporters. He tells the Scotsman that vengeance needs to be taken against the US for its activities in the Islamic world. “The only way to achieve our rights is by force,” he says. “This is the way America deals with us. So when the Americans feel that their lives and their economy are threatened they will know that they should leave.” According to Abssi, it is apparent that killing US soldiers in Iraq is not enough to undermine US public support for its government’s policies in the Islamic world. “We have every legitimate right to do such acts, for isn’t it America that comes to our region and kills innocents and children?” Abssi asks. “It is our right to hit them in their homes as they hit us in our homes. We are not afraid of being named terrorists. But I want to ask: is someone who detonates one kilogram a terrorist while someone who detonates tons in Arab and Islamic cities not a terrorist?” He says that US policies have created a pool of ready recruits for his organization. “Today’s youth, when they see what is happening in Palestine and Iraq, it enthuses them to join the way of the right and jihad. They have now started to adopt the right path,” he says. The Scotsman says that Abssi is permitted to operate freely within the camp despite his known ties to Islamic militant groups like al-Qaeda. The article explains that “because of Lebanese politics, he is largely shielded from the government.” [Scotsman, 3/25/2007] Lebanese forces are banned from entering Palestinian camps under an Arab agreement that signed in 1969. [Reuters, 3/25/2007] According to a recent articles by reporter Seymour Hersh and the Daily Telegraph, both the US and Saudi Arabia have begun providing the Lebanese government with financial support which is reportedly being funneled to Sunni groups, including Fatah al-Islam, as part of an effort to counterbalance the rising influence of Shiite Hezbollah, which has strong ties to Iran (see Late 2006, Before December 25, 2006, and Late 2006 or Early 2007). However, Abssi denies that his group is receiving funds from Sunni Muslim Lebanese politicians or wealthy Saudis. [Reuters, 3/25/2007]
US and Middle Eastern intelligence officials tell the Scotsman that the recent formation of Fatah al-Islam, headed by Palestinian militant Shakir al-Abssi, represents a reemergence of al-Qaeda. The officials say that Abssi is considered a dangerous militant capable of leading teams of operatives with acute military skill. “Guys like Abssi have the capability on the ground that al-Qaeda has lost and is looking to tap into,” one US intelligence source tells the newspaper. [Scotsman, 3/25/2007]
High value detainees. Top row, from left: KSM, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Hambali, Khallad bin Attash. Middle row, from left: Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida. Bottom row, from left: Majid Khan, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Mohamad Farik Amin, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, and Gouled Hassan Dourad. [Source: FBI (except for AFP for Hambali, New York Times for Abu Zubaida, and Reuters for Majid Khan)]Combat Status Review Tribunal hearings are held for fourteen high-value detainees who have been moved to Guantanamo Bay and are being held there by the US military (see September 2-3, 2006). The purpose of the hearings is to check that the detainees are properly designated as “enemy combatants.” Transcripts of the unclassified part of the hearings are released to the media, but no journalists are allowed to attend the hearings, and no photographs of the prisoners are released. However, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) view Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession on closed circuit television in Guantanamo Bay (see March 10, 2007).
Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) admits to being involved in dozens of terror plots and attempts to morally justify his actions (see March 10, 2007), causing a good deal of interest in the media (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi says he is not an al-Qaeda member. However, he admits receiving military training from al-Qaeda, and helping some of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as knowing Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and KSM (see March 21, 2007).
Hambali is accused of being a leader of al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and being involved in several bomb plots in Southeast Asia. He submits a wide-ranging written statement and denies all involvement in terrorist acts, saying he resigned from JI in 2000. [US department of Defense, 4/4/2007 ]
Khallad bin Attash is accused of being involved in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole. He says that the details of his participation in the attacks, as presented in the evidence, are incorrect, but admits being involved in the attacks. [US department of Defense, 3/12/2007 ]
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) admits sending hijacker Marwan Alshehhi some money, but says he knew nothing of the plot, denies being an “enemy combatant,” and says he has provided “vital information” to the US (see March 30, 2007).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh refuses to attend the hearing, or talk to his personal representative and translator, so only the summary of unclassified evidence is read out at the hearing. He is accused of knowing three of the hijacker pilots and facilitating the plot, as well as helping Zacarias Moussaoui and being captured at an al-Qaeda safehouse. [US department of Defense, 3/9/2007 ]
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is accused of involvement in the African embassy and USS Cole bombings, but claims that he was tortured into confessing details of plots he invented (see March 10-April 15, 2007). However, he admits knowing Osama bin Laden and several other militants, as well as receiving up to $500,000 from bin Laden and distributing it to associates, some of whom used the money to get married and some of whom used it “to do other stuff.” He admits knowing the people involved in the USS Cole attack, such as al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who he describes as a “regular guy who was jihadist,” and he admits buying the boat used in the attack and some explosives in Yemen using money provided by bin Laden. [US department of Defense, 3/14/2007 ]
Abu Zubaida is accused of heading the Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan, and admits heading Khaldan, but denies actually being a member of al-Qaeda (see March 27, 2007) and complains of torture (see March 10-April 15, 2007).
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is accused of being involved in the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), for which he was indicted in the US. He admits being present when one of the bomb trucks was purchased and traveling in a scouting vehicle, but not to the embassy; and he admits buying the explosives, but argues another team member “could have gotten it himself, but he sent me to get it and bring it to him.” He also says he was told the explosives were for “mining diamonds.” He admits working with al-Qaeda, but denies actually being a member. He concludes by saying he “would like to apologize to the United States Government for what I did before… it was without my knowledge what they were doing but I helped them.” [US Department of Defense, 3/17/2007 ]
Majid Khan, who is alleged to have facilitated travel for extremists and to have planned an attack inside the US, attends the hearing, but says he “would rather have a fair trial… than a tribunal process.” He also denies the charges, complains of being tortured in US custody (see March 10-April 15, 2007), and submits favorable testimony from witnesses. For example, one witness claims he was forced to make a false statement saying that Khan wanted to participate in a suicide operation against Pakistani President Musharraf by the FBI, which threatened to transfer him to Guantanamo Bay. Khan also points out that he helped the FBI catch an illegal immigrant and says he will take a lie detector test. [US department of Defense, 4/15/2007 ]
Abu Faraj al-Libbi, who was accused of running an al-Qaeda guest house in Afghanistan, running a communications hub, and facilitating travel for militant trainees, elects not to participate in his hearing, as, according to his personal representative, “his freedom is far too important to be decided by an administrative process and [he] is waiting for legal proceedings.” [US department of Defense, 3/9/2007 ]
Mohamed Farik Amin is accused of being involved with the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah and of helping finance attacks by it. He attends the hearing, but does not say anything. [US department of Defense, 3/13/2007 ]
Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) does not to attend the hearing and is represented by his personal representative. He is accused of facilitating the transfer of funds for attacks in Southeast Asia, being an associate of Hambali, and having suspicious materials in the apartment where he was arrested. He says he has “nothing to do with JI” and that “it is true I facilitated the movement of money for Hambali, but I did not know what it was going to be used for.” He also points out, “it is not against the law in Thailand to have an M-16 in your apartment.” [US Department of Defense, 3/20/2007 ]
Gouled Hassan Dourad is accused of heading an al-Qaeda cell in Djibouti and of participating in operations by Al-Ittihad al-Islami in Somalia, but decides not to attend the hearing. He denies the specific allegations, but acknowledges fighting Ethiopians, which he says is his “right.” [US Department of Defense, 4/28/2007]
Entity Tags: Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Gouled Hassan Dourad, Jemaah Islamiyah, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Hambali, Abu Zubaida, Majid Khan, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, Mohamad Farik Amin, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Khallad bin Attash
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture). [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attends his combat status review tribunal at Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), where he admits participating in the 9/11 attacks and numerous other plots, and offers a defense of his actions. He claims responsibility or co-responsibility for a list of 31 plots, including:
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993);
The 9/11 operation: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z”;
The murder of Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002): “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl”;
The late 2001 shoe bombing operation (see December 22, 2001);
The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (see October 12, 2002);
A series of ship-bombing operations (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001 and June 2001);
Failed plots to assassinate several former US presidents;
Planned attacks on bridges in New York;
Various other failed attacks in the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Turkey;
The planned destruction of an El-Al flight in Bangkok;
The Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and assassination plans for President Clinton (see September 18-November 14, 1994) and the Pope (see September 1998-January 1999); and
Planned attacks on the Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and the “Plaza Bank” in Washington State (see October 2001-February 2002). [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ] However, the Plaza Bank was not founded until 2006, three years after KSM was captured. The bank’s president comments: “We’re confused as to how we got on that list. We’ve had a little bit of fun with it over here.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007]
On the other hand, KSM denies receiving funds from Kuwait or ever heading al-Qaeda’s military committee; he says this was a reporting error by Yosri Fouda, who interviewed him in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002). In addition, he claims he was tortured, his children were abused in detention, and that he lied to his interrogators (see June 16, 2004). He also complains that the tribunal system is unfair and that many people who are not “enemy combatants” are being held in Guantanamo Bay. For example, a team sent by a Sunni government to assassinate bin Laden was captured by the Taliban, then by the US, and is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He says that his membership of al-Qaeda is related to the Bojinka operation, but that even after he became involved with al-Qaeda he continued to work with another organization, which he calls the “Mujaheddin,” was based in Pakistan, and for which he says he killed Daniel Pearl. [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ] (Note: KSM’s cousin Ramzi Yousef was involved with the militant Pakistani organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.) [Reeve, 1999, pp. 50, 54, 67] Mohammed says he was waterboarded by his interrogators. He is asked: “Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?” He responds, “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] He goes on to compare radical Islamists fighting to free the Middle East from US influence to George Washington, hero of the American War of Independence, and says the US is oppressing Muslims in the same way the British are alleged by some to have oppressed Americans. Regarding the fatalities on 9/11, he says: “I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” Although Islam prohibits killing, KSM argues that there is an exception because “you are killing people in Iraq.… Same language you use, I use.… The language of war is victims.” [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ] The hearing is watched from an adjoining room on closed circuit television by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). [US Congress, 3/10/2007] KSM’s confession arouses a great deal of interest in the media, which is skeptical of it (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).
Majid Khan. [Source: Associated Press]At hearings in Guantanamo Bay in spring 2007 to determine whether they are “enemy combatants” (see March 9-April 28, 2007), several alleged top al-Qaeda leaders complain of being tortured in US custody:
Alleged al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida says he is ill in Guantanamo Bay and has had around 40 seizures that temporarily affect his ability to speak and write properly, as well as his memory; apparently they are originally the result of a 1992 injury from which he still has shrapnel in his head. He says that the seizures are brought on by broken promises to return his diary, which he describes as “another form of torture,” as he is emotionally attached to it. He also says he was tortured after being captured (see Mid-May 2002 and After), when he was “half die”, due to a gunshot wound received when he was taken, and that he lied under torture. However, the passage in which he describes his treatment at this time is redacted. He has many other injuries, has lost a testicle, and also complains the Guantanamo authorities refuse to give him socks for his cold feet. He has to use his prayer hat to keep his feet warm and does so during the hearing. [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ]
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed remarks that, “I know American people are torturing us from seventies.” However, the next section of the transcript is redacted. He also says his children were abused in US custody. [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ]
Alleged travel facilitator Majid Khan submits a 12-page “written statement of torture.” Khan’s father also gives an account of the torture he says his son was subjected to: he was tied tightly to a chair in stress positions; hooded, which caused him difficulty breathing; beaten repeatedly; deprived of sleep; and kept in a mosquito-infested cell too small for him to lie down in. His father also says Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s children, aged about 6 and 8, were held in the same building and were tortured by having insects placed on their legs to make them disclose their father’s location. [US department of Defense, 4/15/2007 ]
Alleged al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri says he was tortured into confessing the details of plots he invented. He claims that “he was tortured into confession and once he made a confession his captors were happy and they stopped torturing him… [and] he made up stories during the torture in order to get it to stop.” Many of the details of the torture are redacted, but he says in one unredacted comment, “One time they tortured me one way and another time they tortured me in a different way.” [US department of Defense, 3/14/2007 ]
Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says that the claims of torture could undermine the legitimacy of future military commissions: “Someone has got to get to the bottom of these allegations… If there is something there, they are going to need to address it.” The Pentagon promises to investigate the allegations, but Amnesty International comments, “Given the Bush administration record so far on these matters, it strains credulity that any such investigation would be anything other than substandard, or [that] those responsible would be held accountable.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/31/2007]
A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession. [Source: Rob Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 10, 2007), becomes, as Time puts it, “a focus of cable TV and other media coverage, a reminder of America’s ongoing battle against international terrorism.” [Time, 3/15/2007] However, terrorism analysts are skeptical of some aspects of it. In an article entitled Why KSM’s Confession Rings False, former CIA agent Robert Baer says that KSM is “boasting” and “It’s also clear he is making things up.” Specifically, Baer doubts that KSM murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Baer notes that this “raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.” Baer also points out he does not address the question of state support for al-Qaeda and that “al-Qaeda also received aid from supporters in Pakistan, quite possibly from sympathizers in the Pakistani intelligence service.” [Time, 3/15/2007] Pearl’s father also takes the confession of his son’s murder “with a spice of doubt.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Journalist Yosri Fouda, who interviewed KSM in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), comments, “he seems to be taking responsibility for some outrages he might not have perpetrated, while keeping quiet about ones that suggest his hand.” Specifically, he thinks KSM may have been involved in an attack in Tunisia that killed about 20 people (see April 11, 2002). [London Times, 3/18/2007] KSM is also believed to have been involved in the embassy and USS Cole bombings (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001), but these are also not mentioned. Terrorism analyst Bruce Riedel also does not take the confession at face value, saying, “He wants to promote his own importance. It’s been a problem since he was captured.” [Time, 3/15/2007] The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to intelligence officials, “the confession should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.” A former FBI manager says: “Clearly he is responsible for some of the attacks. But I believe he is taking credit for things he did not have direct involvement in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2007] The Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that the Plaza Bank, one of the targets KSM says he planned to attack, was actually established in 2006, three years after he was captured. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007] Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notes KSM only says he is “involved” in the plots and that 31 plots in 11 years “can hardly be called excessive.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Some media are even more skeptical. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that KSM, “claimed credit for everything but being John Wilkes Booth’s handler.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/30/2007]
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. The picture is taken from a stamped document prior to 9/11. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]At his combat status review tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, 9/11 facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi denies providing a large amount of funds for the plot, although he does admit knowing some of the hijackers and helping them travel to the US. According to the Los Angeles Times, his denial that he provided substantial amounts to the hijackers is surprising because, “US authorities, as well as the Sept. 11 commission that investigated the attacks, have long alleged that al-Hawsawi was a top lieutenant of plot mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed… [and he]… arranged funding and travel for several of the 19 hijackers.” Meyer also points out that, “the unclassified summary of evidence read at the hearing did not mention any instances in which he allegedly sent money to them. When specifically asked during the hearing if he had done so, al-Hawsawi said he had not.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2007] The unclassified facts supporting his designation as an enemy combatant mostly relate to his receiving money transfers from some of the hijackers just before 9/11 (see September 5-10, 2001), a laptop computer hard-drive containing information about al-Qaeda that is said to be “associated with the detainee,” and a nineteen-page address book. He admits returning to Pakistan just before 9/11 on the advice of 9/11 managers Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, meeting Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, receiving military training in an al-Qaeda camp, meeting four of the muscle hijackers (see Early-Late June, 2001), and talking to Mohamed Atta on the phone. However, he says that the information on the hard-drive was copied from other computers and was not put there by him, the address book is not his, he never swore bayat to Bin Laden, and is therefore not an al-Qaeda member. [US department of Defense, 3/21/2007 ] Several other high-value detainees have combat status review tribunals hearings at this time (see March 9-April 28, 2007).
A member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who resides in the Nahr Al-Bard Palestinian refuge camp, tells Al Jazeera that “Fatah Al-Islam is not a legitimate Palestinian group. They are a foreign force. Whoever brought them here should take them out.” [Arutz Sheva, 3/25/2007] Shakir al-Abssi, leader of Fatah al-Islam, has denied that his group is supported by outsiders (see March 2007). However recent reports suggest that his group is benefiting from a US and Saudi policy (see Late 2006) to use Sunni groups as part of a proxy effort to undermine Shiite groups and Iranian influence in the region.
At a Guantanamo Bay tribunal to decide his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007), militant Islamist logistics manager Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is accused of heading Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan and of co-ordinating their operation with Osama bin Laden, as well as moving money for al-Qaeda, desiring fraudulently-obtained Canadian passports for a terrorist plot, and making diary entries about planned attacks in the US. [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ]
Complaints of Torture, Admission of False Confessions - Zubaida complains of being tortured in US custody (see Mid-May 2002 and After and March 10-April 15, 2007). Zubaida’s statements about his treatment in US custody will be redacted from the trial transcripts, but a few remarks remain. In broken English, Zubaida states: “I was nearly before half die plus [because] what they do [to] torture me. There I was not afraid from die because I do believe I will be shahid [martyr], but as God make me as a human and I weak, so they say yes, I say okay, I do I do, but leave me. They say no, we don’t want to. You to admit you do this, we want you to give us more information… they want what’s after more information about more operations, so I can’t. They keep torturing me.” The tribunal president, a colonel whose name is also redacted, asks, “So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?” Zubaida replies, “Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Denies Being Al-Qaeda Member or Enemy of US - He goes on to deny that he is an “enemy combatant,” saying that the Khaldan training camp, which he admits being logistics manager of, was around since the Soviet-Afghan War and was also used to train Muslims who wanted to fight invaders in Muslim lands, such as Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines, and Bosnia, where “America helped us.” After he was captured the US administration exaggerated his importance, and some media accounts have suggested his role was greatly exaggerated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He denies being an official member of al-Qaeda and says he disagrees with attacks on civilians. However, he admits some of his trainees subsequently decided to join al-Qaeda and that he did not prevent them from doing this. He also denies moving the money and submits a volume of his diary that apparently shows he was in Pakistan when the charges state he went to Saudi Arabia to collect the money. He requests the production of other volumes of his diaries, on which some of the charges are based, but they are not made available to the tribunal. In addition, he denies corresponding with bin Laden before 2000 and details a dispute that arose between them after that time. He says his diary entries about military targets are “strictly hypothetical,” and the passports are for non-terrorist travel. Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, he admits he helped non-aligned fighters escape from South Asia. He states that he is an enemy of the US because of its alliance with Israel, which he claims is oppressing his fellow Palestinians, saying, “A partner of a killer is also a killer.” [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 ]
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) at Guantanamo in July 2009. [Source: International Committee of the Red Cross]At his Combat Status Review Tribunal hearing in Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) denies being an enemy combatant and says he has provided “vital information” to the US. Regarding the allegations against him:
He admits sending money to hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in the US, but says it was Alshehhi’s money and he regularly moved money for others—he did not know Alshehhi intended to hijack airliners (see June 28-30, 2000);
He admits knowing and working for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), his uncle, but says he had no idea KSM was connected to al-Qaeda;
He admits leaving Dubai just before 9/11, but says this was due to residence permit problems (see September 9-11, 2001);
He also denies various other allegations made against him and says he has never been a member of al-Qaeda, trained in the camps, or met Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Statements by KSM and Ramzi bin al-Shibh saying he was not involved in the operation are also submitted in his defense. In his final statement to the tribunal he says: “Ever since I was turned in to the United States government, about four years ago, the government uses my services by getting information from me about al-Qaeda activities and personnel that I obtained through independent research. The United States has benefited from the vital and important information I supplied by foiling al-Qaeda plans and obtaining information on al-Qaeda personnel… So, is it fair or reasonable that after all the important and vital information I have supplied to the United States government that I be considered an enemy combatant?” [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 ] The CIA refuses to comment on Ali’s claim he is cooperating. [Los Angeles Times, 4/13/2007]
Damage after one of the Algiers bombings. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Two bombs hit Algiers, the capital of Algeria. At least 23 people are killed and 160 are injured. One of the bombs hits the prime minister’s office but the prime minister is not injured; the other bomb hits a police station. The group Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb reportedly takes credit for the bombings. The group, known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) until recently, is considered the main Islamist rebel group in Algeria. [BBC, 4/11/2007]
Former CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who ran the agency’s “rendition” program that sent suspected terrorists to foreign nations to be interrogated for information in the late 1990s (see Summer 1995 and 1997), says during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the assurances of Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria that a suspect will not be tortured are not “worth a bucket of warm spit.” Scheuer tells the assembled lawmakers that he knows of at least three mistakes that the CIA has made in its overseas rendition program, including the capture and subsequent torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002 and October 10, 2002-October 20, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 149-150; US Congress, 4/17/2007 ]
Fahad al-Quso. [Source: New York Times]Fahad al-Quso, implicated in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Yemen in 2004 for his role in that bombing (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). He attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in which the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The US maintains a $5 million bounty for him. However, around May 2007, al-Quso is secretly freed. Since 2002, the Yemeni government has had a program of “reeducating” al-Qaeda prisoners and then releasing them (see 2002 and After). The US learns of al-Quso’s release in February 2008, but takes no known action in response. Al-Quso apparently remains free. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the Taliban’s top military commander, is killed in Afghanistan. The Telegraph claims that, “Since the Taliban’s ousting in late 2001, Dadullah emerged as probably the militant group’s most prominent and feared commander.” He often appeared in videos and media interviews. [Daily Telegraph, 5/14/2007] He is only the second high-ranking Taliban leader captured or killed since 9/11 (see December 19, 2006). ABC News claims that 36 hours before he was killed, Dadullah said in a videotaped interview that he was training US and British citizens to carry out suicide missions in their home countries. US officials claim to have tracked him from this interview in Quetta, Pakistan, back to a Taliban hiding base in Afghanistan, then carried out a helicopter assault against his base. [ABC News, 5/14/2007] The Taliban immediately announce that his younger brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, will be his replacement as the chief military strategist (see June 5, 2007). [CBC News, 5/14/2007]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Addressing interior ministers of the six US-allied Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz says that Iraq has become a security threat for the whole Middle East. “The security situation in Iraq is deteriorating and terrorism is growing there. Iraq has become fertile ground for creating a new generation of terrorists learning and practicing all forms of murder and destruction,” he says. “The lax security situation in Iraq bears great dangers for our region and stability in our countries.” [Daily Times (Lahore), 5/22/2007]
The Los Angeles Times reports that US intelligence has no idea where bin Laden is hiding. The search for bin Laden was disrupted in early 2002 when most US intelligence assets and equipment was pulled out of Afghanistan to prepare for war with Iraq, and the search has yet to recover. There has not been a single substantiated lead on bin Laden’s location since early 2002 (see Early 2002). “We’re not any closer,” says a senior US military official who monitors the US intelligence on bin Laden. A former senior CIA official says, “We’ve had no significant report of him being anywhere,” and adds that the US does not even have information since 2002 that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified. There have been no solid leads on the location of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in recent years either. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007] The Washington Post similarly reported in September 2006 that the search for bin Laden has gone “stone cold” (see September 10, 2006). In June 2008, a Western military analyst” will tell NBC News, “We don’t have a clue where [bin Laden] is or even may be. We have had NO credible intelligence on [him] since 2001. All the rest is rumor and rubbish either whipped up by the media or churned out in the power corridors of Western capitals.” This analyst says the last good information on bin Laden from the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001. [MSNBC, 6/13/2008]
Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]
Aftab Khan Sherpao. [Source: Associated Press / Army Times]A document by Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao warns that the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups are growing in strength in Pakistan. They are spreading beyond their strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the Afghanistan border and without “swift and decisive” action, they could destabilize the entire country. Sherpao narrowly escaped a suicide bombing in April, near the city of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. The attack on his life caused him to reconsider the government’s policy of appeasing militant groups. The Interior Ministry report is presented to the US National Security Council on June 4 with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in attendance. The report says: “The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan. There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them.” A Western diplomat familiar with the report says it is the first acknowledgment from Pakistan as to the danger of the militant threat. The diplomat calls it “an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country’s heart. It’s tragic it’s taken so long [for Pakistan] to recognize it.” [New York Times, 6/30/2007] The report’s gloomy predictions will quickly be proven correct as the raid on the Red Mosque one month later greatly increases militant violence throughout Pakistan (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007).
A high-ranking Taliban leader says that Osama bin Laden is alive and well. Mullah Bakht Mohammed (a.k.a. Mansoor Dadullah) says in an interview with Al Jazeera: “Sheikh Osama bin Laden is alive and active. He’s carrying out his duties. The latest proof that he is alive is that he sent me a letter of condolences after the martyrdom of my brother.” Bakht’s brother, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, was the Taliban’s top military commander, but was killed in May 2007 (see May 13, 2007), and Bakht immediately took his place. [Al Jazeera, 6/5/2007] In December 2007, the Taliban will announce that Bakht has been replaced as military commander due to insubordination. He will continue fighting for the Taliban however, and will be injured and captured by Pakistani forces near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in February 2008. [Associated Press, 2/11/2008]
Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi. [Source: Public domain]Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and four other organizations file a US federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking information about 39 people they believe have “disappeared” while held in US custody. The groups mentions 39 people who were reportedly captured overseas and then held in secret CIA prisons. The US acknowledges detaining three of the 39 but the groups say there is strong evidence, including witness testimony, of secret detention in 18 more cases and some evidence of secret detention in the remaining 18 cases. In September 2006, President Bush acknowledged the CIA had interrogated dozens of suspects at secret CIA prisons and said 14 of those were later sent to Guantanamo Bay (see September 6, 2006). At that time it was announced that there were no prisoners remaining in custody in US secret facilities (see September 2-3, 2006). However, the groups claim that in April 2007 a prisoner named Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo, demonstrating the system is still operating (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). The groups also claim that in September 2002 the US held the two children of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), then aged seven and nine, in an adult detention center. KSM was later captured and is now held at Guantanamo; it is unknown what happened to his children. [Reuters, 6/7/2007] Some of the more important suspects named include:
Hassan Ghul, said to be an important al-Qaeda courier. In 2005, ABC News reported he was being held in a secret CIA prison (see November 2005). Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader. The same ABC News report also mentioned him. Al-Libi was secretly transferred to Libya around 2006 (see Between November 2005 and September 2006) and will die there in 2009 under mysterious circumstances (see (May 10, 2009)).
Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, a son of the Blind Sheikh, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The same ABC News report also mentioned him. He was reportedly captured in Pakistan in 2003 (see February 13, 2003).
Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al Azdi. He is said to be a candidate 9/11 hijacker who was held back for another operation. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported he was in US custody.
Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed. Wanted for involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings, he was reportedly captured in Somalia in March 2003. Witnesses claim to have seen him in two secret US prisons in 2004.
Yassir al-Jazeeri. Said to be a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader, he was reportedly captured in Pakistan in March 2003. Witnesses later saw him in a secret CIA prison (see March 15, 2003).
Musaad Aruchi, a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He was reported captured in Pakistan in June 2004 and then taken into CIA custody (see June 12, 2004).
Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Wanted for a role in the African embassy bombings, there were various reports he was captured in Pakistan in 2002 and taken into US custody (see July 11, 2002). However, it appears these reports are false, because he will allegedly be killed in Pakistan in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
Anas al-Liby, also wanted for a role in the African embassy bombings. He was reportedly captured in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002) and it is suspected the US has handed him over to Egypt. [Human Rights Watch, 6/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Pacha Wazir, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed, Yassir al-Jazeeri, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Human Rights Watch, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, Amnesty International, Anas al-Liby, Hassan Ghul, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, Musaad Aruchi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
According to reports in the Indian press, a recently arrested militant leader says he believes Saeed Sheikh wired money to lead hijacker Mohamed Atta before 9/11 (see Early August 2001 and Summer 2001 and before). The militant, who is known as Babu Bhai and is a leader of the militant organization Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, says that the money came from a ransom paid for the release of a kidnapped shoe company executive and that he was involved in the kidnap operation as a deputy to the local commander, Asif Raza Khan. Other people involved in the money transfer are arrested based on the information disclosed by Babu Bhai. This confession supports previous reports about the transfer (see September 30-October 7, 2001, January 22-25, 2002 and July 31, 2003). [Times of India, 6/25/2007; News Post India, 6/25/2007; Ahmedabad Newsline, 6/29/2007]
Dan McNeill. [Source: US Department of Defense]Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticizes the rising number of civilians killed by NATO and US-led troops. “Innocent people are becoming victims of reckless operations,” he says. He says his Western allies are using “extreme” force without coordinating with his government first. He says, “You don’t fight a terrorist by firing a field gun [24 miles] away into a target. That’s definitely, surely bound to cause civilian casualties.” It is believed more civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in 2007 so far by Western allies than have been killed by the resurgent Taliban. [BBC, 6/23/2007] The Observer reports that senior British soldiers have expressed concerned that Gen. Dan McNeill, the new head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, is “‘a fan’ of the massive use of air power to defeat insurgents and that his favoured tactics could be counter-productive.” He has been dubbed “Bomber McNeill” by his critics. One British officer who recently returned from Afghanistan says, “Every civilian dead means five new Taliban. It’s a tough call when the enemy are hiding in villages, but you have to be very, very careful.” [Observer, 7/1/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in Pakistan away from the tribal region, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, the warning comes shortly after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, also attended by al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, top leaders of the Haqqani network (a semi-autonomous Taliban faction based in Pakistan), and at least two officials of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Immediately afterwards, al-Zawahiri visits Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in the country’s northwest. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “The urgency with which al-Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told [the US] about al-Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got.” Islamabad is only 31 miles from Abbottabad, where bin Laden will eventually be found. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
The Pakistani government secretly releases al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul from its custody. Ghul was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and spent two and a half years in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). The CIA handed Ghul to Pakistan in mid-2006 after Pakistani pressure (see (Mid-2006)). Pakistan apparently wanted Ghul because he was linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). The ISI had secretly promised to make sure that Ghul would never be freed, but he is released after about a year without ever being tried or even charged. It is not known exactly when Ghul is released. However, a British prisoner named Rangzieb Ahmed will later testify in Britain that he was held in an adjacent cell to Ghul’s in Pakistan, and the last time he sees Ghul is in January 2007. In 2011, the Associated Press will report that unnamed former and current US intelligence officials say that Ghul has since rejoined al-Qaeda. Under US interrogation, Ghul provided key intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s main courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. So when Ghul returns to al-Qaeda, he could warn bin Laden that US intelligence is learning about Ahmed. But either Ghul does not reveal what he confessed, or his warning is not heeded, because bin Laden continues to live with Ahmed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011] Despite Ghul’s return to al-Qaeda, the US has yet to put Ghul on any of its most wanted lists. No picture of Ghul has ever been made public either, even though the US goverment must know what he looks like since he was held by the US for several years.
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces. His arrest will be reported in Pakistani newspapers in early August 2007, but the arrest receives little international attention because al-Afghani is a previously unheard of figure. However, the US government considers him valuable. He is soon transferred to the CIA’s secret prison system and is held there until March 2008 when he will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison and officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008 and March 14, 2008). Rahim is an Afghan who is said to have been a long-time al-Qaeda planner and facilitator. He is probably highly valued because it is said he served as a translator for Osama bin Laden in recent years, and not many people in recent contact with bin Laden have been caught. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
Security forces after the Sheba temple bombing. [Source: Marib Press / Associated Press]A suicide bomber drives into a convoy of Spanish tourists visiting an ancient temple in Yemen, killing eight Spaniards and two Yemenis. The attack takes place near a 3,000 year old temple dedicated to the Queen of Sheba, about 85 miles east of the capital of Sana’a. No group claims responsibility for the bombing, but less than two weeks earlier, the US embassy issued a warning for Americans to avoid the area, due to suspicions of a planned al-Qaeda attack. [Associated Press, 7/3/2007; BBC, 8/8/2007] One month later, Yemeni security forces kill some suspected al-Qaeda militants, including three men, Ali bin Ali Naser Doha, Naji Ali Jaradan, and Abdul-Aziz Saeed Jaradan, who are believed to have been involved in the bombing. One of those that is not killed is Kassem al-Raimi, an alleged top al-Qaeda operative thought to have masterminded the attack. Al-Raimi was one of many who escaped from a Yemeni prison the year before (see February 3, 2006). [BBC, 8/8/2007; Yemen Times, 8/12/2007] In several interviews after the bombing, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh will claim his government has reached a new truce with al-Qaeda. [Associated Press, 10/26/2007]
An aerial view of the Red Mosque compound. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)The Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) has long been a prominent center of Islamist militancy in Pakistan.
ISI Ties Slowly Weaken - Located in Islamabad, just two miles from the president’s residence and half a mile from ISI headquarters, the mosque has long-standing ties to the ISI. For instance, the mosque housed the orphans and relatives of suicide bombers who had died in the disputed region of Kashmir; the ISI worked closely with militant groups in Kashmir for many years. The mosque is run by two brothers, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who also have long-standing ties to the ISI and Pakistani military. But feeling safe due to their government links, the Ghazi brothers had been acting increasingly assertive, seizing land around the mosque and slowly turning it into a large complex of madrassas (Islamic boarding schools) housing thousands of students.
Armed Standoff Slowly Develops - Militants from the mosque began threatening and sometimes even kidnapping nearby citizens for being insufficiently religious. An increasing number of militants come to the mosque with weapons, turning it into a heavily armed compound. In April 2007, the Ghazi brothers threaten civil war if the government refuses to implement Sharia law, a strict Islamic legal code. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was clear that the movement was out of control, the Ghazi brothers had overstepped their limits and gotten carried away, and the militants were no longer listening to their ISI handlers.” A Pakistani army brigade surrounds the estimated 10,000 students and militants barricaded inside the mosque compound. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] The crisis comes to a head in late June 2007, when activists from the mosque kidnap a six Chinese women and three Chinese men from a nearby acupuncture clinic. The activists claim the clinic is really a brothel and they will hold them until they are reeducated. [Agence France-Presse, 7/24/2007]
Army Attacks and Takes Over - On July 3, 2007, there is an initial clash between the army and the militants, and several thousand inside escape or surrender. On July 8, the army begins a full scale assault against those remaining. It takes three days of heavy fighting to clear out the mosque and surrounding complex. Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi is killed while Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi is arrested while trying to flee as a woman. The government claims that 102 militants and/or students and 10 soldiers were killed, but the militants claim that hundreds in the complex were killed.
Effects of Raid - Up until this time, there has been a loose alliance between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in Pakistan, despite a continuing friction. But with the Red Mosque siege, the militants essentially launch a civil war against the government (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Twenty-one attacks are launched in the next three weeks alone. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] Musharraf’s popularity is initially boosted after the raid, but this support dims after evidence comes out that a number of children were killed during the raid. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Some evidence suggests that al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri were secretly supporting the militants in the mosque (see July 15, 2007), and al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audio tape condemning the raid (see July 11, 2007).
The New York Times reports that the US still rarely conducts missions inside Pakistan, where most of the top al-Qaeda leadership is assumed to be, out of consideration for the government of Pakistan. Such attacks could politically hurt Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. A former Bush administration official says, “The Special Operations guys are tearing their hair out at the highest levels.” While there has not been good intelligence on the locations of the highest al-Qaeda leaders recently, there sometimes has been useful information on other figures. “There is a degree of frustration that is off the charts, because they are looking at targets on a daily basis and can’t move against them.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
John Kringen. [Source: CIA]A new threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” is presented to a House committee and then leaked to some reporters. It concludes that al-Qaeda has significantly rebuilt itself. CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John Kringen says that al-Qaeda appears “to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” adding: “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2007] While the assessment remains classified, another official tells a reporter that it concludes al-Qaeda is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago,” “has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001,” and has managed to create “the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives.” A different official concludes that the group is “showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States.” [Salon, 3/27/2008]
A man claiming to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri condemns the Pakistani Army’s raid of the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), a center of Islamist militancy in Islamabad, Pakistan (see July 3-11, 2007). In an audio tape released on the Internet, the man says: “Muslims of Pakistan: your salvation is only through jihad [holy war]… Rigged elections will not save you, politics will not save you, and bargaining, bootlicking, negotiations with the criminals, and political maneuvers will not save you.… This crime can only be washed away by repentance or blood. If you do not revolt, [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf will annihilate you. Musharraf will not stop until he uproots Islam from Pakistan.” [BBC, 7/11/2007; Associated Press, 7/11/2007] The audio tape appears just days after the raid on the Red Mosque began. The Sunday Times notes, “Diplomats were surprised by the speed with which the fugitive al-Zawahiri condemned the raid and called on Pakistanis to rise up against Musharraf.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] The Sunday Times will claim that al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders were secretly directing the militants in the mosque (see July 15, 2007). Osama bin Laden also apparently condemns the Red Mosque raid, but it will take until September for his message to appear (see September 20, 2007).
An explosion at the Red Mosque during the government raid. [Source: Inter Services Public Relations]Prior to the Pakistani Army’s raid on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) from July 3-11, 2007, the Pakistani government had generally maintained an uneasy alliance with Pakistani Islamist militants, although these militants sometimes launched violent attacks on the government. But in the immediate aftermath of the Red Mosque raid (see July 3-11, 2007), Pakistani militants and government forces openly war with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the government made peace deals with militants in the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan (see February 7, 2005 and September 5, 2006). But these deals immediately collapse. On July 11, the last day of the mosque raid, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently condemns the raid and calls for Pakistanis to overthrow their government (see July 11, 2007). On July 12, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vows in a nationally televised address that he will crush extremists throughout Pakistan. He says, “Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.” He also says that over the next few months, security forces will retake the tribal regions near the Afghanistan border now controlled by a mix of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militants. On the same day, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the Red Mosque along with his brother but was arrested during the raid, is allowed to speak at the funeral of his brother. He says, “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.” Also on July 12, the first retaliatory suicide bombings take place. [Associated Press, 7/12/2007; London Times, 7/16/2007] Over the next three weeks, 167 people, including 120 soldiers and police, are killed in 21 militant attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Most of these take place in the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal regions, both of which have a strong militant presence. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The government’s inept handling of the [Red Mosque] crisis was a turning point for al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, and other extremist groups, who now joined together and vowed to topple the government and create an Islamic state.” Hundreds of potential new suicide bombers vowed revenge and began training in the tribal regions. Al-Qaeda’s focus “shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it saw a demoralized army, a terrified citizenry, and an opportunity to destabilize the state. For the first time, senior Pakistani officials told me, the army’s corps commanders accepted that the situation had radically changed and the state was under threat from Islamic extremism. In fact, the Pakistan army was now fighting a civil war.” [Rashid, 2008]
Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Sunday Times reports that “al-Qaeda’s leadership secretly directed the Islamic militants” in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), a center of Islamist militancy is Islamabad, Pakistan, that was raided by the Pakistani army several days earlier (see July 3-11, 2007). The Times claims that “senior intelligence officials” say that the soldiers who took over the mosque discovered letters from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri written to Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, two brothers who ran the mosque and surrounding compound. The article alleges that up to 18 foreign fighters arrived weeks before the government raid and set up firing ranges to teach students how to handle weapons. Pakistani government ministers blame the presence of foreign fighters for the breakdown of negotiations between government and those inside the mosque. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Ghazi brothers admitted to having good contacts with many al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. After 9/11, they denied links with al-Qaeda and other officially banned militant groups, but they strongly supported “jihad against America.” Numerous speakers at the mosque openly condemned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and even called for his assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007] Al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audiotape condemning the raid and callis for open revolt in Pakistan (see July 11, 2007).
Juma al-Dosari in Saudi Arabia after his release. [Source: Nancy Durham / CBC]The Defense Department releases 16 Saudis being held in Guantanamo prison and returns them to Saudi Arabia. One of them is Juma al-Dosari, a dual Bahraini/Saudi citizen, and apparently a long-time al-Qaeda operative. [Gulf Daily News, 7/17/2007]
Extensive Al-Qaeda Links - Al-Dosari was known as “the closer” for recruiting new al-Qaeda operatives, and he recruited the “Lackawanna Six” in New York State while he lived in the US from 1999 to 2001. According to his 2006 Guantanamo Administrative Review Board evidence review, there is a long list of evidence tying him to al-Qaeda since he was 16-years old in 1989, just one year after al-Qaeda was founded. He fought with militants in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Tajikistan. He was arrested in Kuwait and then again in Saudi Arabia for suspected involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996), but released without charge both times. An unnamed source claims he was involved in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He was arrested during the battle of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001, and then sent to Guantanamo. US intelligence intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 2001-May 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; US Department of Defense, 9/13/2006 ]
Release Unnoticed, Unexplained - Al-Dosari’s 2007 release goes almost entirely unnoticed by the US media, despite previous articles and books discussing his recruitment of the “Lackawanna Six.” In June 2008, retired FBI agent Peter Ahearn will comment to the Buffalo News that he is baffled that the US government never criminally prosecuted al-Dosari, and then released him. “We felt strongly that we could try him in Buffalo on criminal charges, but the Justice Department declined.” Ahearn is upset that al-Dosari “is walking around as a free man in Saudi Arabia.” [Buffalo News, 6/22/2008]
"Rehabilitated" in Saudi Arabia - Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, al-Dosari is admitted into a “soft approach” government rehabilitation program designed to prevent militants from relapsing back into violent extremism (see 2007 and After). He is given a car, psychological therapy, a monthly allowance, help to find a job, and help to get married. He had attempted to commit suicide over a dozen times while in Guantanamo. In 2008, it will be reported that he is doing well in Saudi Arabia, with a new wife and a new job. He now says Osama bin Laden “used my religion and destroyed its reputation.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2007; Gulf News, 2/22/2008]
A 2007 map showing Pakistan’s tribal areas. Regions dominated by Islamist militants are highlighted in pink. [Source: New York Times]A summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland” is declassified. The NIE, a unified assessment from all 16 US intelligence agencies, says that al-Qaeda has, in the words of the Post, “reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure, and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a ‘heightened threat environment‘…” The last NIE on terrorism worldwide was completed in April 2006 and indicated that al-Qaeda’s fortunes were declining (see April 2006). The main reason the new NIE gives for al-Qaeda’s resurgence is the establishment of a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Its link with the affiliate group Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also helped “energize” militants and aided recruitment and funding. The NIE’s release comes just days after a similar report by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” (see July 11, 2007), and also just days after the Pakistani government broke peace deals with Islamist militants in the tribal region (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Edward Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats and the primary author of the NIE, says in a press briefing, “Over the past 18 to 24 months, safe haven in Pakistan has become more secure.” He says it has allowed al-Qaeda to develop of a new tier of leadership in the form of “lieutenants… coming off the bench,” to replace the leaders who have been captured or killed. On the same day the NIE is released, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell says of al-Qaeda, “They’re working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States.… They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into… Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population… and carry out acts.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
In the wake of the Pakistani government’s attack on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in early July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007), peace deals between the government and militant groups in Pakistan completely break down (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fires Ali Jan Orakzai, a regional military commander sympathetic to the Taliban who had been promoted to governor of the North-West Frontier Province. Then, on July 19, 2007, the Pakistani army formally launches an offensive in Pakistan’s tribal region. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are believed to have their central leaderships there. There is no quick resolution, and fighting rages for months. Militants divert the army’s attention by launching suicide bombings and other attacks in other parts of the country. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 385]
Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
In October 2007, Fox News military commentator Col. David Hunt claims that in August 2007, the US military had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden, but did not. “We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty—which is huge in the world of intelligence” that bin Laden was in a convoy heading south from Tora Bora. He claims that bin Laden was seen on satellite imagery and heard through communications intercepts. “We had the world’s best hunters/killers—SEAL Team 6—nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist.” But, “[u]nbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Osama bin Laden.” He blames risk-aversion and incompetence for the failure to act. His account has not been corroborated by other sources. [Fox News, 10/23/2007]
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), while running for US president, says in a speech, “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again… If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won’t act, we will.” This is in response to a recent comment made by his main opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She said, “If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan, I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured.” The difference between the comments is Obama’s willingness to attack inside Pakistan without approval from the Pakistani government. [Reuters, 7/1/2007; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Video still of Ayman al-Zawahiri (top) and analysis by Krawetz (bottom). [Source: As-Sahab/Neal Krawetz]Researcher and computer security consultant Neal Krawetz first claims that the logos of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm, and the US-based IntelCenter organization, which monitors terrorist activity, were added to a video released by al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at the same time, then retracts the claim when IntelCenter protests. Krawetz initially makes the claim during a presentation at a security conference about how analysis shows al-Qaeda videos are manipulated and backgrounds are added later. Krawetz says that the As-Sahab and IntelCenter logos have the same error level, so they must have been added at the same time. However, IntelCenter says that it did not add the As-Sahab logo and that just because two items in an image have the same error level, that does not mean they were added at the same time. Krawetz then tells a journalist that he retracts his initial claim and says that the IntelCenter logo has a different error level and was added later. The journalist comments: “However, in a taped interview I conducted with him after his presentation, he said the logos were the same error levels and that this indicated they were added at the same time. Additionally, after I’d written the first blog entry about his presentation, I asked him to read it to make sure everything was correct. He did so while sitting next to me and said it was all correct. He apologizes now for the error and the confusion it caused.” [Wired News, 8/2/2007] Krawetz’s method of analysis will attract some criticism. For example, Cambridge University expert Marcus Kuhn will say that Krawetz’s tools were designed for still images, not video, and could lead a user to believe that a video had been manipulated when in fact it had not. [Times, 8/6/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that provide evidence of a possible cover-up of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American personnel in 2003. The documents detail US Army Office of Inspector General investigations by three high-ranking Army officials: Major General Barbara Fast, then the top intelligence officer in Iraq (see December 2003); Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and former CENTCOM head Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The documents suggest that these three flag officers failed to act promptly when informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They also show that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at the Iraqi prison qualified as torture. “These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in US custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” says ACLU official Amrit Singh. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” The documents also show that Major General George Fay (see August 25, 2004) found the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib to be torture: “[W]hat was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were—those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s—actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.” Fay also noted in the document that a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a ‘mindset’ in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He noted that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo (see August 25, 2004), not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Baitullah Mahsud. [Source: Associated Press]On August 30, 2007, Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mahsud surround a convoy of more than 270 soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. The militants are vastly outnumbered, but get the soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. In the following days, dozens more soldiers surrender or even desert to Mahsud. This is a humiliating debacle for the Pakistani army and a reflection of low morale. The Washington Post comments: “The troops’ surrender has called into question the army’s commitment to fighting an unpopular war that requires Pakistanis to kill their countrymen. It has also exposed the army to ridicule.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007] Mahsud demands the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan, the tribal region where Mahsud is the de facto ruler. After weeks of slow negotiations, he orders the beheading of three of his hostages. On November 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declares a state of emergency throughout Pakistan (see November 3-December 15, 2007). Musharraf claims that his emergency powers will give him a stronger hand to fight militants like Mahsud, but the next day he releases 28 jailed militants in return for the release of the nearly 300 soldiers still held. Eight of the released militants are would-be suicide bombers. For instance, one of them had just been sentenced to 24 years in prison after being caught carrying two suicide belts. The incident propels Mahsud into becoming the figurehead of Pakistan’s militant movement, and from this time on many violent incidents are blamed on him, although his forces are probably not linked to them all. Mahsud had strong ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He fought with the Taliban in the 1990s and helped al-Qaeda leaders escape the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. [Washington Post, 10/3/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 385-388; Newsweek, 1/7/2008]
A secret US government document from this month called the “Joint Task Force Guantanamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants” calls the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, a terrorist organization. The ISI is listed with al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah as threats. The document is meant for interrogators at the Guantanamo prison who are trying to determine which detainees to release. It suggests that any link to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist activity, and evidence the detainee poses a future threat. The US has never officially declared the ISI a terrorist group, suggesting its public posture differs from its private one for political reasons. After this and other Guantanamo documents are leaked to The Guardian in 2011, The Guardian will report: “The revelation that the ISI is considered as much of a threat as al-Qaeda and the Taliban will cause fury in Pakistan. It will further damage the already poor relationship between US intelligence services and their Pakistani counterparts, supposedly key allies in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants in south Asia.” The newspaper will further note that although the document is from 2007, it is unlikely the ISI’s status at Guantanamo has changed by 2011. Other Guantanamo documents leaked to The Guardian describe instances where the ISI helped US efforts, but also instances where the ISI was seen helping Islamist militants. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Bin Laden video in 2004, left, and bin Laden video in 2007, right. [Source: Al Jazeera (left) and Intelcenter (right)]A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new video message, his first for three years (see October 29, 2004). In the message, which is addressed to the US, the speaker says that actions by radical Islamists have influenced US policy and that American prestige in the world has fallen, even though the interests of radical Islamists “overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives.” He also criticizes the US media and, due to its treatment of Sunni Muslims, the Iraqi government. The speaker says, “The holocaust of the Jews was carried out by your brethren in the middle of Europe, but had it been closer to our countries, most of the Jews would have been saved by taking refugee with us,” and also references common discrimination against Jews and Muslims in Medieval Spain, pointing out that Jews in Morocco “are alive with us and we have not incinerated them.” In addition, he criticizes the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that the Democratic party was elected to stop the war, but continues “to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there,” because “the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates,” who are then, it is implied, controlled by these corporations. The voice mentions the assassination of former US President John Kennedy and says that “the major corporations who were benefiting” from the Vietnam War “were the primary beneficiary from his killing.” He also references left-leaning writer Noam Chomsky, former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer, global warming, and the Kyoto accord, saying that the democratic system has caused a “massive failure to protect humans and their interests from the greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives,” and is “harsher and fiercer than your systems in the Middle Ages.” Finally, the speaker compares US President Bush to former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who failed to acknowledge the Soviet Union was losing the Afghan War, and calls on the US to get out of Iraq and embrace Islam, which recognizes Mary and Jesus, a “prophet of Allah,” but does not recognize taxation. [MSNBC, 9/7/2007 ; Osama bin Laden, 9/7/2007; Osama bin Laden, 9/7/2007; Osama bin Laden, 9/7/2007] Bin Laden’s beard is different to his beard in previous videos and this leads to some discussion. According to the Washington Post, “The tape’s most striking feature [is] bin Laden’s physical appearance: The straggly, gray-streaked whiskers of his previous images [have] been replaced with a neatly trimmed beard of black or dark brown. While some analysts speculated that the beard [is] fake, others said it [is] likely that bin Laden had dyed his beard, as is customary for older men in some Muslim cultures.” [Washington Post, 9/8/2007] There are some problems with the video; for example, the picture is frozen for most of the time and the video is spliced (see September 12, 2007).
The Washington Post reports, “Today, al-Qaeda operates much the way it did before 2001. The network is governed by a shura, or leadership council, that meets regularly and reports to bin Laden, who continues to approve some major decisions, according to a senior US intelligence official. About 200 people belong to the core group and many receive regular salaries, another senior US intelligence official said.” This second official adds, “They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organization and not just as a loose bunch of guys.” Most of this core group is believed to be in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] It has been estimated that there were roughly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives around 9/11, but only a core of about 200 had pledged loyalty to bin Laden (see Just Before September 11, 2001).
Waleed Alshehri in his video will. [Source: As Sahab]A new video is released featuring an audio statement by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden and a video will by one of the 9/11 hijackers, Waleed Alshehri. The man thought to be bin Laden urges sympathizers to join the “caravan of martyrs” and praises Alshehri, saying, “It is true that this young man was little in years, but the faith in his heart was big.” The audio message is accompanied by a still image of the man thought to be bin Laden, apparently taken from a video released a few days earlier (see September 7, 2007). It is unclear whether the audio message is new or was taped some time before release, although the speaker mentions the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). In the will, Alshehri warns the US, “We shall come at you from your front and back, your right and left.” He also criticizes the state of the Islamic world, “The condition of Islam at the present time makes one cry… in view of the weakness, humiliation, scorn and enslavement it is suffering because it neglected the obligations of Allah and His orders, and permitted His forbidden things and abandoned jihad in Allah’s path.” Homeland security adviser Frances Townsend says that the video is not important and that bin Laden is “virtually impotent.” However, MSNBC will comment, “Bin Laden’s new appearances underline the failure to find the terror leader that President Bush vowed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to take ‘dead or alive.’” [MSNBC, 9/11/2007]
Osama bin Laden in 2004 (left) and 2007 (right). [Source: As-Sahab]Problems with a recently released video featuring a man thought to be Osama bin Laden surface. In particular, the 26-minute recording only contains two short sections where the man said to be bin Laden is seen talking. The first covers the initial two minutes of the tape, the second begins after around twelve and a half minutes and lasts for about 90 seconds. The remaining 23 minutes of the tape show only a still image of the speaker. There are also many audio and video splices in the tape and the two live sections appear to be from different recordings, as the desk in front of bin Laden is closer to the camera in the second section. Analyst Neal Krawetz says, “the new audio has no accompanying ‘live’ video and consists of multiple audio recordings… And there are so many splices that I cannot help but wonder if someone spliced words and phrases together. I also cannot rule out a vocal imitator during the frozen-frame audio. The only way to prove that the audio is really bin Laden is to see him talking in the video.” Krawetz will also note the similarities with bin Laden’s previous video, released just before the 2004 US presidential election (see October 29, 2004): “[T]his is the same clothing [a white hat, white shirt and yellow sweater] he wore in the 2004-10-29 video. In 2004 he had it unzipped, but in 2007 he zipped up the bottom half. Besides the clothing, it appears to be the same background, same lighting, and same desk. Even the camera angle is almost identical.” Krawetz also comments, “if you overlay the 2007 video with the 2004 video, his face has not changed in three years—only his beard is darker and the contrast on the picture has been adjusted.” [News(.com), 9/12/2007] However, most of the Western news coverage about the video fails to point out that most of the video is a still image. [CNN, 8/8/2007; National Public Radio, 9/7/2007; BBC, 9/8/2007]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio tape calling on the people of Pakistan to overthrow President Pervez Musharraf. The immediate reason is a Pakistani government attack on a mosque, which is compared to the destruction of a mosque in India by Hindu nationalists, “Pervez’s invasion of Lal Masjid [the Red Mosque] in the City of Islam, Islamabad (see July 3-11, 2007), is a sad event, like the crime of the Hindus in their invasion and destruction of the Babari Masjid.” The voice on the tape accuses Musharraf of providing “loyalty, submissiveness and aid to America,” and says, “armed rebellion against him and removing him [are] obligatory.” Musharraf is also criticized for showing images of a cleric attempting to escape the mosque in women’s clothing, for Pakistani military intelligence allegedly pressurizing clerics to issue fatwas favorable to the government, for his inaction over Kashmir, and for using the Pakistani army in tribal areas. [Counterterrorismblog(.org), 9/2007; BBC, 9/20/2007] Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri also apparently released an audio tape condemning the Red Mosque raid, but his tape took only days to appear (see July 11, 2007).
According to Time magazine, the CIA produces a report saying that Osama bin Laden has long-term kidney disease and may only have months to live. Time cites as its source “two US officials familiar with the report.” Allegedly, the CIA managed to get the names of some of the medications bin Laden is taking. How this was done is unclear. One of the sources says the report concluded, “Based on his current pharmaceutical intake, [we] would expect that he has no more than six to 18 months to live and impending kidney failure.” However, some observers will dispute the alleged report’s apparent claims. Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “It’s trying to make a diagnosis from thousands of miles away with only fragments of the medical chart.” Former Bush administration official Frances Fragos Townsend will add: “I’ve read all the same conflicting reports [on bin Laden’s health] that people have talked to you about. I never found one set of reporting more persuasive than another.” When Time breaks the story the next year, the CIA will even disavow the claims attributed to the report. “I have found no one here familiar with this alleged report or the analytic line it supposedly conveys,” says CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The fact that anonymous sources attribute views to the CIA is not, by itself, reason to believe the agency actually holds those views.” [Time, 6/30/2009]
David Miliband (L), Manouchehr Mottaki (R). [Source: Press TV]Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticizes ongoing talks between British officials and the Taliban in Afghanistan, characterizing them as the wrong approach. “Such moves indicate the continuation of the wrong policies which will only strengthen the Taliban and undermine Afghanistan’s government,” he says at a meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband in New York. He also slams Britain’s counter-narcotics efforts, pointing out that the production of narcotics has been increasing in Afghanistan despite British presence in areas of the country central to opium production, such as Helmand province. [Press TV, 10/2/2007]
The Washington Post reports, “Pakistan’s government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.” Since the government’s raid on the Red Mosque in July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007), militants have gone all out in trying to overthrow the government, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been consumed by a struggle to stay in power (see October 6, 2007 and November 3-December 15, 2007) and has done little in return to fight them. Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, a top security official in the tribal regions until he retirement in 2005, says: “The federal government is busy with its problem of legitimacy. Getting Musharraf elected for another five years—that is keeping everything on hold.” Militants not only control much of the country’s mountainous tribal regions, but they are increasingly moving down the hills to threaten larger towns and cities. A Western military official based in Pakistan says the militants have “had a chance to regroup and reorganize. They’re well equipped. They’re clearly getting training from somewhere. And they’re using more and more advanced tactics.” But this official says that Pakistan’s military are “not trained for a counterinsurgency. It’s not their number one priority. It’s not even their number two priority.” This person adds, “The sad thing about it is that a lot of these militants are better off than the Frontier Corps,” referring to the Pakistani paramilitary force guarding the tribal region. The militants “have rockets. They have advanced weapons. And the Frontier Corps has sandals and a bolt-action rifle.” The Post notes that although the US has given about $10 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, “the aid does not seem to have won the United States many friends here. Nor has it successfully prepared the Pakistani army to battle insurgents.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007]
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]
After almost five years in US custody, Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002) is charged with attempted murder in violation of the law of war and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Jawad is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade into a US military vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, but denies the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Jamal al-Badawi in a Yemeni prison in 2005. [Source: Associated Press / Muhammed Al Qadhi]Al-Qaeda operative Jamal al-Badawi, considered one of the main planners of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), turns himself in to Yemeni authorities on October 17, 2007. He had escaped a Yemeni prison the year before and had been sentenced to death in Yemen for his role in the bombing (see February 3, 2006). But on October 26, Yemeni authorities release him again in return for a pledge not to engage in any violent or al-Qaeda-related activity. Yemen often lets militants go free if they pledge not to attack within Yemen (see 2002 and After). The US has issued a $5 million reward for al-Badawi’s capture, but the Yemeni government refuses to extradite him. US officials are furious about the release, which is particularly galling because it comes just two days after President Bush’s top counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend visits Yemen and praises the Yemeni government for their cooperation in fighting terrorism. The US had also just announced $20 million in new aid for Yemen, but threatens to cancel the aid due to al-Badawi’s release. Al-Badawi is put back in prison on October 29 and the aid program goes forward. However, US officials are dubious about al-Badawis’ real status. One official who visits him in prison gets the impression he was put in a prison cell just in time for the visit. [Newsweek, 10/27/2007; Newsweek, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 1/28/2008] In December 2007, a Yemeni newspaper reports that al-Badawi has again been seen roaming free in public. One source close to the Cole investigation will tell the Washington Post in 2008 that there is evidence that al-Badawi is still allowed to come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded to be able to conduct random inspections to make sure he stays in his cell, but apparently the Yemeni government has refused the demand. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi. [Source: BBC]Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. [CNN, 10/19/2007]
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. [New York Times, 10/20/2007]
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. [Australian, 10/20/2007] The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. [CNN, 10/20/2007]
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