In a March 13, 2002 article on the interrogation of Omar Sheikh, one of the accused in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, I had said:
'When the Karachi police took custody of Omar from the Inter-Services Intelligence on February 12, he started talking to them freely and voluntarily about his activities since he was released by India in the last week of December, 1999, to terminate the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar by the Harkat-ul Mujahideen.
'He said that: "He had since then been functioning from Lahore with the knowledge and permission of the ISI. At Lahore, he was in regular touch with General Mohammad Aziz Khan, who was a corps commander there, till his appointment as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee on October 8, 2001.
'He was frequently travelling to Kandahar to meet Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden and to Dubai.
'He had personally met Mohammad Atta, the mastermind of the September 11 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Centre in New York, during one of his visits to Kandahar and knew of the plans for the September 11 strikes. He had told Lieutenant General Ehsan-ul Haq, the present DG of the ISI, who was then a corps commander at Peshawar, and General Aziz Khan about it.'
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Since then, I had referred to this on several occasions, pointing out that it was inconceivable that Ehsan-ul Haq would not have mentioned this to General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator, and stressed the importance of investigating as to why Musharraf chose not to pass on this information to the US authorities and alert them about the imminence of Al Qaeda's terrorist strikes in US territory.
By not doing so, he had rendered himself guilty of causing the death of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians of different nationalities. I had also raised this on many occasions during my visits to the US since then.
While greeting my point with scepticism, a question which was often posed to me by my American audiences and interlocutors was: 'Al Qaeda is known for its secrecy and operational security. It succeeds in its terrorist strikes because of this. That was how it was able to keep the rest of the world in the dark about its plans for 9/11. It is unacceptable that Omar would have come to know of its plans for 9/11 during a casual visit to Kandahar since no one outside a very small circle in the top leadership of Al Qaeda knew about its plans.'
It seemed then a valid counter-point, but it is no longer so.
If you have doubts, please go through a statement prepared by some members of the staff of the US National Commission, which had enquired into the 9/11 terrorist strikes and whose report was released to the public on July 22.
In its introduction, it says: 'Outline of the 9/11 Plot -- Staff Statement No 16: Members of the Commission, your staff is prepared to report its preliminary findings regarding the conspiracy that produced the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. We remain ready to revise our understanding of this subject as our work continues. Dietrich Snell, Rajesh De, Hyon Kim, Michael Jacobson, John Tamm, Marco Cordero, John Roth, Douglas Greenburg, and Serena Wille did most of the investigative work reflected in this statement. We are fortunate to have had access to the fruits of a massive investigative effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies, as well intelligence collection and analysis from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the State Department, and the Department of Defense.'
From a perusal of the statement, it is clear the staff had access to the interrogation reports of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other top operatives of Al Qaeda in US custody. Some other relevant excerpts from the introduction:
'As Atta made his final preparations during the summer of 2001, dissent emerged among Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan over whether to proceed with the attack. Although access to details of the plot was carefully guarded, word started to spread during the summer of 2001 that an attack against the United States was imminent. According to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, he was widely known within Al Qaeda to be planning some kind of operation against the United States. Many were even aware that he had been preparing operatives to go to the United States, as reported by a CIA source in June 2001,' the introduction concludes.
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'Moreover, that summer bin Laden made several remarks hinting at an upcoming attack, which spawned rumors throughout the jihadist community worldwide. For instance, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad claims that, in a speech at the al Faruq training camp in Afghanistan, bin Laden specifically urged trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs. With news of an impending attack against the United States gaining wider circulation, a rift developed within Al Qaeda's leadership. Although bin Laden wanted the operation to proceed as soon as possible, several senior Al Qaeda figures thought they should follow the position taken by their Afghan host, Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who opposed attacking the United States.
'According to one Al Qaeda member, when bin Laden returned after the general alert in late July, he spoke to his confidants about problems he was having with Omar's unwillingness to allow any further attacks against the United States from Afghanistan.
'Khalid Sheikh Mohammad claims that Omar opposed attacking the United States for ideological reasons but permitted attacks against Jewish targets. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad denies that Omar's opposition reflected concern about US retaliation, but notes that the Taliban leader was under pressure from the Pakistani government to keep al Qaeda from engaging in operations outside Afghanistan. While some senior Al Qaeda figures opposed the 9/11 operation out of deference to Omar, others reportedly expressed concern that the U.S. would respond militarily.
'Bin Laden, on the other hand, reportedly argued that attacks against the United States needed to be carried out immediately to support the insurgency in the Israeli occupied territories and to protest the presence of US military forces in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden also thought that an attack against the United States would reap Al Qaeda a recruiting and fundraising bonanza. In his thinking, the more Al Qaeda did, the more support it would gain. Although he faced opposition from many of his most senior advisers -- including Shura council members Shaykh Saeed, Sayf al Adl, and Abu Hafs the Mauritanian -- bin Laden effectively overruled their objections, and the attacks went forward.'
From this, it is quite clear that the plans for the 9/11 terroist strikes were not such a closely-guarded secret in Afghanistan as made out to be and that many, including Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, knew about it.
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As many experts in the US itself have admitted, the Taliban was under the control of Pakistan's ISI. It had many serving and retired officers of the Pakistan army serving in it. The Taliban's intelligence set-up was largely staffed by serving and retired officers of the ISI.
It is, therefore, impossible that the Pakistani authorities would not have known of Al Qaeda's plans for the 9/11 terrorist strikes from their officers working as advisers to the Amir of the Taliban. It is also not surprising that Omar Sheikh came to know of the plans during a visit to Kandahar and told Ehsan-ul-Haq about it.
The statement prepared by the staff does quote Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as speaking of pressure on Mullah Omar from Pakistan not to let Al Qaeda carry out terrorist strikes outside Afghanistan.
The relevant question from the point of view of any credible investigation is: Why did the Pakistani military regime not pass on the information conveyed by Omar Sheikh to the US and alert it to the imminence of the terrorist strikes?
If it had and the US agencies had not acted on the information, they are guilty of gross negligence.
If it had not, Pakistan is guilty of complicity in the terrorist strikes.
The Commission has avoided going into these questions and finding out the truth. This is a matter which needs to be taken up by the relatives of the victims of the terrorist strikes, about 250 of them Indians or persons of Indian origin, before the judiciary in the US.