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THREE of the TOP 5 most wanted terrorists are in Pak

Last updated on: May 28, 2012 10:22 IST

THREE of the TOP 5 most wanted terrorists are in Pak

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Aziz Haniffa

Security expert Bruce Riedel says that from the evidence at hand so far it is clear that the jihadist infrastructure in Pakistan is closely tied to the country's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Aziz Haniffa reports

Bruce Riedel, erstwhile Central Intelligence Agency analyst and the former senior National Security Council official in the Clinton Administration, has said that Pakistan today, is host, 'willingly or unwillingly' to more terrorists than any other country in the world.

Riedel, now a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, participating in a conference hosted by leading Washington, DC-based conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation said, "To give you an example of how Pakistan is the epicentre of global jihad, look at the top five on America's most wanted list -- three of them are in Pakistan and only one of them is actually hiding in Pakistan."

"The one that is hiding is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new head of Al Qaeda's global terrorist empire. He has been hiding in Pakistan now for at least 10 years. He may be hiding, but he is not inactive. In fact, he is quite a busy man these days and so far, this month alone, he has put out three new audio messages to Al Qaeda followers around the world."

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Image: Video grab of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's new chief. (Inset) Bruce Riedel


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Riedel said, "Number two on our top five list is Mullah Omar, the Commander of the Faithful as he likes to call himself -- the Emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the founder and head of Taliban. He almost certainly is living somewhere in Karachi, commuting regularly from there to Quetta."

"His location remains publicly a mystery, but it is not a mystery to the Pakistani army or the Pakistan government," he said, noting that according to a recent NATO study based on the interrogation of 4,000 captured Taliban prisoners, "every single leader, his location, is known to the ISI, and regularly meets with the senior ISI leadership."

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Image: File photo of Mullah Omar
Photographs: Reuters

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Riedel said, "The third on the list of America's top five who is hiding in Pakistan is of course, Hafeez Saeed, the latest entry into the market -- the Emir or Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the secret Emir of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and he is not hiding at all. You can find him anytime you want to. In fact, you can find him almost every night on Pakistani TV, usually laughing at the United States. He is in plain sight as you can possibly be."

"The three individuals," he argued, "illustrate the complexity of the global jihad in Pakistan and its different relationships to the government of Pakistan."

Riedel, who has been indefatigable in his quest to investigate who was hiding Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan and seemingly is convinced it was the ISI, said that even though the recently seized released documents found at Osama bin Laden's compound has yet to reveal a specific smoking gun, said this question shouldn't be laid aside and be simply an academic exercise.

He said the question "of how Osama was able to hide so successfully in Pakistan for nine of the last 10 years and what made it so easy for him to hide less than a mile from Pakistan's premier military academy and who was helping him hide there is not simply an academic issue -- it has much more important, much broader policy interests."

"First of all, if we can really figure out who was helping to hide to hide Osama, we will be a lot closer to finding out where Ayman Zawahiri and the rest of the Al Qaeda leadership is today," he said.

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Image: LeT chief Hafeez Saeed


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"Secondly, we can't really assess the status of Al Qaeda today unless we understand how it was this leader was able to hide in Pakistan for nine years in a row."

Riedel argued that "if somehow, he was connected to elements of the Pakistani State and to the Pakistani national security infrastructure, then our whole concept of what Al Qaeda is and the threat that it poses to the United States, probably needs a radical re-set."

He said that according to documents collected from bin Laden's hideout, "the hide-out was built by a construction company whose CEO was a former member of the ISI -- a construction company that specialised in providing construction assistance to the ISI."

Riedel also said the significance where this hide-out was situated could not be underestimated by any measure because "it was inside the military protected privileged zone of the city of Abbottabad, which is not your normal Pakistani city. This was one of the most secure areas in all of Pakistan, and to give you an example, in 2006, the first-ever Chinese-Pakistan counterterrorism exercise was held in Abbottabad in the military academy."

"And one wonders if Osama ever waved at the Chinese visitors," he quipped.

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Image: The compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces
Photographs: Reuters

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Riedel also noted that the timing of Osama's move to Abbottabad was also hardly coincidental and pointed out that in 2005, "the Taliban was returning to the battlefield in force in Afghanistan, and it was returning with the assistance of the Pakistani army and the ISI -- without that assistance its comeback would have never happened."

He further noted, "We know that in 2005, General Kayani was director-general of the ISI and he was overseeing the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. We know that in 2005 Nadeem Taj was director of the Kakul Military Academy. Taj had been the man who helped President Pervez Musharraf launch his coup in 2000 and he would go on to succeed Kayani in 2007 as the director general of the ISI for a ne year before the Bush administration demanded his removal because of his connections with jihadist activities."

Riedel also said that in terms of people who visited Osama in Abbottabad, it seemed "the global jihadist networks knew of where his hideout was."

He also noted that with regard to phone numbers found in Abbottabad, "among the phone numbers that were found, were the phone numbers of the Harkat-ul-Mujaheddin, a group with long connections to Al Qaeda whose leader Fazlul Rehman Khalil lives openly in a suburb of Islamabad."

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Image: The compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces
Photographs: Reuters

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Riedel also spoke of the connections between bin Laden and the LeT and that "we know he was in contact with Mullah Omar and we know he was in contact with the notorious Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri because he ordered Mr Kashmiri to come up with a plot to kill President Obama and General Petraeus."

Thus, he said, "It's an interesting threesome and all have long-standing connections to the Pakistani national security infrastructure, and two continue to have close connections to the Pakistani national security infrastructure and Ilyas Kashmiri is the only one who's gone rogue, as they put it in Pakistan."

Riedel argued that to him "the bottom-line is that it is clear that the jihadist infrastructure in Pakistan was actively involved in the hiding of Osama and that Harkat-ul-Mujahiddin, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Afghan Taliban -- these people knew he was hiding somewhere and they knew how to contact him."

"This infrastructure secondly, is closely tied to the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate," he added.

Riedel exonerated the civilian side of the government of Pakistan from knowing the whereabouts of Osama saying, "That's only because the civilian government of Pakistan is usually clueless about everything that's going on in their country and certainly everything that's going on in the military."

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