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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Mohammad Shehzad

Were Al Qaeda terrorists killed in Pakistan?

January 23, 2006

Mohammad Shehzad's attempt to visit Bajaur -- the site of the January 13 attack by United States aircraft in which several top Al Qaeda leaders were reported killed -- was foiled by Pakistani security agencies who stopped him at Darband checkpost on January 19.

Subsequent investigations and talks with several intelligence sources and local journalists exposed several intriguing aspects of the case, but threw up more questions than answers. This is what he discovered:

The US attack on Bajaur near the border with Afghanistan on January 13 has taken a new turn.

Quoting credible intelligence sources, the Dawn newspaper (January 19) has published an exclusive story claiming that three Al Qaeda men were killed in the Bajaur raid, including Abdur Rehman Al Maghribi, the son-in-law of Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The other two were senior militants - Midhat Mursi Al Sayed, also known as Abu Khabab Al Masri, Al Qaeda's chemical and explosive expert who carries a $5m reward, and Abu Obaidah Al Masri, Al Qaeda's chief of operations for Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province.

I spoke to the same intelligence sources who had provided Dawn this story and asked where the dead bodies were. "The local people in the area removed the dead bodies immediately after the attack," said an intelligence source.

There are conflicting stories over whether the Pakistan government knew about the US attack.

"It is impossible that Pakistan did not know about this attack. During the Afghan war, so many radars were set up in the Bajaur Agency. The moment any Russian plane entered our territory, Pakistan would come to know. The radars are still there. It is obvious that the US launched the attack with the full knowledge of Pakistan," says Sahibzada Haroon Rashid, member of the National Assembly from Bajaur who lives a few kilometres from the targeted site.

"It is absolutely impossible that the attack could have been carried out without giving advance information to Pakistan," concurs General Mirza Aslam Beg (retd), the former Pakistan army chief.

"The government is denying having any prior information to hide its embarrassment. In fact, the government did not expect such a strong protest from the Opposition and the public. Realising the seriousness of the situation, the government is giving conflicting statements about advance information about the attack," the general said.

Al Qaeda bomb-maker killed: Pakistan

"The Musharraf regime has given the US full access to Pakistan's aerial space. US planes can enter and leave Pakistan anytime. There is no check on their movement. The claim that Pakistan was not informed in advance could be right in the sense that US planes already move around freely. When the Americans suspected some Al Qaeda militants were there (in Bajaur), they attacked the place. This was a surprise to the Pakistani government," said an intelligence source.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid admitted at a social gathering that the Pakistan government did have information about the attack, and the fact that President Pervez Musharraf did not condemn the attack in his address to the nation on January 17 lends credence to this belief.

According to Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Afghanistan, Pakistan intelligence agencies are trying to placate the public and Opposition by saying some foreigners were killed in the US attack. "The agencies have been saying that since the attack, but without having any evidence. The agencies have also been saying they were 'unimportant' Al Qaeda militants," he said.

Yusufzai visited Damadola on January 14 and interviewed local people. Everyone he spoke to confirmed there were no foreign militants in the area at the time of the attack.

"My house is at a distance of 2.5 km from the spot of the raid. On the night of January 13, four drones were monitoring the area. After a few hours, four to five jet planes bombed the house. They fired missiles. I reached the spot at 9 am. The local people removed the dead under the rubble after 5,6 hours. The dead were buried in front of my eyes. There were 13 casualties, not 18. There were three, four men. The rest of the dead were women and children including an infant," says Sahibzada Haroon. Damadola is 40 km away from Kunar and has a population of 10,000.

Sahibzada Haroon led an angry mob and urged the local people to wage jihad against the US, and demanded that the Pakistan government resign. He justified this act as a 'peaceful jihad'.

"It is correct that 13 people died," said Shah Zaman, a spokesman for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. "The estimate of deaths were made on the basis of the graves that were dug. Earlier 18 graves were dug. Two remained empty. Then three people, who were believed to be dead, returned to their village today. They were not dead. They had fled due to the fear of attack."

Both Rahimullah Yusufzai and Haroon say not a single government official visited the site for five days.

Independent journalists and analysts believe neither Pakistan nor the US has any evidence that could prove that three senior Al Qaeda militants were killed. "Unless the dead bodies are presented and DNA tests carried out, it will remain a controversial issue," says Yusufzai.

"Bajaur is a place where you cannot do any camouflaging. There are no forests. There are only mountains. There is a main road. No senior Al Qaeda men can be present here. Moreover, there was no back up force on the ground at the time of the raid that could have taken care of the dead bodies. The government has been saying 18 innocent people were killed. This means the government is admitting that there were no foreign militants," says a local journalist.

US airstrike an intelligence failure

"The US acted on very sketchy information. It did not bother to confirm the information and carried out the raid out of desperation. The US is extremely desperate. It has no knowledge about the terrain. It depends on aerial attacks. It does not trust Pakistani intelligence sources. It has hired various local tribal leaders as informers. And you know that in such areas there are several intra-tribal feuds and enmities," say senior intelligence sources.

"It has happened in the past that local tribal leaders provided wrong information to the US to take revenge (against their local enemies). The latter attacked and thus they (local tribal leaders) got rid of their enemies. It seems to me that the recent Bajaur attack was a similar case. You would remember the US carried out many such raids after 9/11 on vague information. You would remember how a wedding party in Afghanistan was targeted by US planes," the sources added.

"So far, Pakistan has been successful against Al Qaeda in terms of capturing some militants. And that was a credible thing. Top Al Qaeda guys were arrested from various parts of Pakistan and handed over to the US. In such cases, huge press conferences were convened and journalists were provided enough evidence. Had it been true that three senior Al Qaeda men were killed in the attack, Musharraf would have himself addressed a press conference," says an analyst.

Al Qaeda No 2 may have been killed in US airstrike

"The US is losing its grip on the so-called war against terror. It acted on wrong information and killed many innocent people. Then it requested Pakistan to save face. The US media is bending over backwards to prove that senior Al Qaeda militants have been killed - without any evidence. Since Pakistan is a US lackey, it has no option but to toe the line. Pakistan is changing its statements and constantly lying about the Bajaur attack. Even Pakistani intelligence agencies are also in the dark about it. Something is cooking up at the highest level. I think the US has requested Pakistan to present this incident as a success that was, in fact, US inefficiency. The US is trying to hide its failure and using Pakistan in this effort," says another analyst.

"The fact remains that Bajaur has a pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda population. Bajaur has its strategic importance," says a local journalist. "Some months ago, Bajaur's political agent was changed on intelligence agencies' report because he was pro-Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban. His name was Pirzada Wazir. The new political agent is Fahim Wazir who has less sympathy with the Taliban or Al Qaeda."

"Bajaur has become the hub of foreign militants. Abu Faraj Libi told intelligence agencies that he met al-Zawahiri some months back his arrest in Bajaur. It is quite possible that al-Zawahiri might have stayed in Bajaur for some hours. The best hideouts for such militants is always close to the border. They cannot hide deep inside either in Pakistan and Afghanistan," the journalist said.

"The government is planting such stories that foreigners were in Bajaur to make (Prime Minister) Shaukat Aziz's visit to the US successful," says Opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

"The attack was a mistake and this is incorrect that the Pakistani government summoned US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to the foreign office. The US State Department has also clarified that Pakistan had not protested to the US about this attack. The area has been closed for journalists. This shows, the government is hushing up the matter and trying to present a mistake as a success," Rehman added.

In Washington, Shaukat Aziz told CNN that reports of senior Al Qaeda leaders having been killed in the airstrike were 'bizarre.'

A credible Pakistani intelligence source claimed that Midhat Mursi Al Sayed, also known as Abu Khabab Al Masri, the Al Qaeda explosive expert, was in Bajaur at the time of the attack.

"Al Masri was in the village in connection with his marriage. He was planning to marry a relative of Maulana Faqir Mohammad, a tribal leader wanted by the government. That night, Faqir Mohammad had invited the future couple. Masri was there to see the woman. He met the woman and liked her. He was to marry her this Friday (January 20). The woman was taken away along with her relatives after al Masri had seen her. She was not among the dead. She is a distant relative of Faqir Mohammad," the intelligence source said.

The woman was a widow whose husband died fighting in Afghanistan when the US overthrew the Taliban, he added. "She is around 30 and has a son who is 7. Her 'martyred' husband was a follower of Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi," the sources added.

"Since it is not a tradition that the prospective groom will propose to the prospective bride himself, al Masri was represented by al-Zawahiri who is married to a Pakistani woman who lives in FATA. Al-Zawahiri acted as al Masri's guardian or elder or wali as per Islamic tradition. Al-Zawahiri had to pay al Masri's dowry, $12,000. In return Faqir Mohammad had to provide him 100 committed suicide bombers as the bride's dowry."

"Soon after giving al Masri his blessings, al-Zawahiri left. Al Masri stayed behind along with two Al Qaeda militants who were killed in the attack. His two colleagues as well as al-Zawahiri and his bodyguards were to attend the wedding, but the US attack spoiled the whole plan."

This was endorsed by a source in another intelligence agency, while a third official added: "Al Masri trained a group of Taliban militants who made the suicide jackets that were used in the suicide attack of January 16 by the Taliban in Afghanistan, in which 26 people died."

"Al Masri was in contact with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's militants in Kunar and training them in making explosive devices. His death is a setback to the Taliban and other jihadi groups fighting in Afghanistan."

The same source added that al Masri had trained Balochistan Liberation Army militants in making bombs and landmines.

More reports from Pakistan

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: true

this is no respect for a human loss in these corporate media houses, all they want is a news and then pep it big way. ...

Posted by Mubashir

Sub: Indian media

It's natural for American media to ignore the fact that this killed civilians. But it's sad to see Indians newspapers like The Times of India ...

Posted by sbk



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