September 18, 2002


 Search the Internet

E-Mail this column to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on  HP Laserjets
Recent Columns
Pakistan's devious ploy
The need for para
The dangers of
Musharraf or worse?
Musharraf's speech
     was an anti-climax

B Raman

Al Qaeda's new home

Though US officials may not admit it openly lest they embarrass General Pervez Musharraf, an analysis of reports emanating from Pakistani sources clearly indicates that the focus of the US-led war against pan-Islamic terrorism spearheaded by Al Qaeda has shifted to Karachi. From the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas -- FATA -- of Pakistan, the focus now lies this port city of in Sindh province.

When the dregs of Al Qaeda, Taliban and various components of the bin Laden-led International Islamic Front shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, they had initially taken shelter in FATA. During the last four to six months, they have spread themselves out to Karachi, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan).

There are presently three concentrations of the International Islamic Front inside Pakistan. The Uzbek and Chechen dregs have taken shelter in the NWFP and FATA. The Arabs of Al Qaeda and some Pashtuns of the Taliban have taken refuge in Karachi. The Pakistanis of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba have taken shelter in Karachi, PoK and Northern Areas. While the Lashkar-e-Tayiba is mostly based in PoK and the Northern Areas, the other four Pakistani components of the International Islamic Front have split themselves into a number of small groups and are operating from sanctuaries in Karachi as well as PoK and the Northern Areas.

Till August 2002, the main focus of the US operations were in southeastern Afghanistan and the adjoining tribal areas of FATA. On the Afghan side, the operations were carried out largely by US forces with the help of the resurrected Afghan warlords and heroin barons. On the Pakistani side, the operations were carried out by the Pakistani security forces, with the US intelligence agencies providing the technical intelligence support.

The results achieved were not commensurate with the efforts put in. Amongst the reasons were poor intelligence, even misleading intelligence from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and Afghan warlords, and leaked operational plans of US troops to terrorists before their hideouts were raided.

During this period, practically all the dregs of Al Qaeda, Taliban and five Pakistani components of the International Islamic Front managed to get out of the tribal belt and flee in small groups to Karachi, PoK and the Northern Areas. Some led by Abu Zubayada even managed to take shelter in Faislabad, Punjab, but were smoked out and arrested in the last week of March 2002.

Investigations into all terrorist incidents directed against US and other Western nationals and interests since the beginning of this year in Pakistani territory by the Sindh police revealed that all these attacks were carried out by the Pakistani dregs of the International Islamic Front. Conspiracies were hatched and planning was done in Karachi, even though in some cases the attacks were carried out in places other than Karachi.

Since August 2002, the US has left the mopping-up of the Uzbek and Chechen dregs in the FATA to be handled by the Pakistani security forces and shifted its attention to Karachi. For the present, no importance has been given to the Pakistani dregs in PoK and the Northern Areas. Since their terrorism is largely directed against Indian nationals and interests in Jammu and Kashmir, the US does not feel unduly concerned over their activities and does not feel the need to divert its resources to those areas adjoining the Indian territory.

Pakistani security forces have so far not made any important arrest in FATA. They have been following the same methods which the British followed before 1947 under the British promulgated Frontier Crime Regulations, which are still in force -- collective punishments, demolition of houses and seizure of property of uncooperative villagers etc. This has given rise to seething anger not only against the Pakistani troops, but also against the US, but the Pakistani army has thus far been able to prevent the anger from bursting out into violent incidents.

Till last month, Pakistani authorities, including Musharraf, were vehemently denying reports that the Arab dregs of Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden himself (if still alive), had taken shelter in Karachi. In support of their denials, they were pointing out that all those arrested in connection with the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl and the subsequent incidents were Pakistanis and there were no Arabs.

Even though members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi detained by the Sindh police spoke about the involvement of Yemeni-Balochis in Pearl's murder, no attempt was made to trace them. The encounter at Karachi on September 11, 2002, which led to the death of two terrorists (Mohammad Khalid and Saleh Ibrahim) -- reported to be Yemenis -- and the capture of one Saudi, one Egyptian and eight Yemenis clearly establishes that the hardcore of Al Qaeda has been living in Karachi and operating from there and not from the NWFP or FATA.

One of those killed is suspected to be an Yemeni-Balochi who had slit Pearl's throat. Amongst the Yemenis arrested is Ramzi Binalshibh who was being hunted by American and German investigative and intelligence agencies since 9/11. His arrest could prove to be as significant, if not more, as that of Abu Zubaydah for the following reasons:

  • He was a member of the so-called Hamburg cell, which played a leading role in the planning and execution of 9/11.
  • He was to be the 20th hijacker, but could not enter US due to the refusal of visa.
  • He had participated in a preparatory meeting in Afghanistan (November 1999) and in two meetings in Malaysia (in 2000 and 2001).
  • He had played a role in the transmission of funds to terrorists undergoing flying training in the US.
  • Since the US air strikes started in Afghanistan on 10/7, he and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been moving together and living together in Karachi. A staffer of Al Jazeera (Yosri Fouda) had interviewed both of them in a secret location in Karachi during which they had boasted about Al Qaeda's role in 9/11.

Western counter-terrorism experts believe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was probably the brain behind 9/11. In 1995, he and Ramzi Yousef had together plotted from their hideouts in the Philippines a series of terrorist strikes against the US, which did not materialise. Both fled to Pakistan after the Filipino authorities got scent of their plans. Ramzi was arrested by the Pakistani authorities under Benazir Bhutto and handed over to the US for trial in the World Trade Centre explosion case, but Khalid Mohammed managed to evade arrest and emerged as one of Osama bin Laden's principal aides, when he returned to Afghanistan in 1996.

The Western media had in recent weeks quoted a senior US intelligence official as saying that if he had to decide between catching bin Laden and Khalid Mohammed, he might prefer the latter. "Bin Laden is unquestionably the leader, the symbol and the recruiting poster," the official said. "But it's looking more and more like Khalid actually makes things happen." They also quoted French terrorism expert and UN Security Council consultant Roland Jacquard as saying: "He is probably the only man who knows all the pieces of the puzzle."

Khalid Mohammed also uses the aliases Abdul Majid, Salim Ali, Ashrai Refaat, Nabith Renin, Khalid Abdul Waddod and Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin Khalid. The police authorities in the Philippines had described him as a Kuwaiti-born and US-educated Pakistani. If he is definitively established to be a Pakistani, this would show that 9/11 was masterminded by a Pakistani assisting bin Laden. It may be recalled that Sheikh Omar, who has already been convicted in the Pearl murder case and has appealed against it, was reported to have told the Karachi police that during a visit to Afghanistan before 9/11 he had come to know of plans for terrorist strikes in the US and had immediately informed Lieutenant General Ehsanul Haq, the present director general of the ISI, who was at that time corps commander, Peshawar.

A number of interesting/intriguing questions about Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Mohammed remain unanswered. Are they related to each other as some reports claim? Are they Pakistanis (Yemeni-Balochis) as Filipino and Western agencies seem to believe, Kuwaitis (this is denied by the Kuwaiti authorities) or Iraqis (in the past, the Pakistani media had been consistently referring to Ramzi Yousef either as a person of Middle Eastern background or as an Iraqi)?

An interesting aspect of the raid of September 11, 2002, has not received the attention it deserves. The so-called encounter lasted nearly four hours before the terrorists could be arrested. The ISI has claimed this was because the terrorists were heavily armed. Sindh police sources have, however, denied this. According to them, the security forces led by an ISI officer fired about 5,000 rounds as against about 100 fired by the terrorists.

Police authorities allege that the ISI officer, who led the raiding group, deliberately kept up heavy firing without any need for it in the hope that this would either kill Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Mohammed or enable them to escape. While Khalid Mohammed seems to have escaped, Binalshibh was caught alive.

The sanctuaries now enjoyed by the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Pakistani components of the International Islamic Front in Karachi would not have been possible without the complicity of the ISI and Karachi's underworld. Since 1994, Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in India in connection with the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, has emerged as the godfather of Karachi's underworld.

Even before March 1993, he had close contacts not only with the ISI, but also, through the ISI, with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. At the ISI's instance, Ibrahim's men were trained in the training camps of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami near Peshawar, run with the ISI's assistance.

Since settling down in Karachi in 1994, Ibrahim has enjoyed the protection of the ISI and Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, with many retired intelligence officers now working in his security setup. Unless the US and UN also turn their attention to Ibrahim and his mafia, have their bank accounts frozen, get them arrested and deported to India to stand trial in connection with their involvement in the Mumbai blasts, the US plans to smoke out Al Qaeda and other terrorists from Karachi may not be totally successful. The Government of India also should take up this matter with the US.

B Raman

Tell us what you think of this column