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Pak helped Taliban prop al Qaeda: 9/11 panel

T V Parasuram in Washington | June 17, 2004 00:53 IST

Pakistan benefited from the Taliban-al Qaeda relationship, as Osama bin Laden's camps trained and equipped fighters for "Pakistan's ongoing struggle" in Kashmir, a staff report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the US released Wednesday said.

Pakistan, the report from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States said, did not break with the Taliban until after 9/11, although it was well aware that the Taliban was harbouring bin Laden.

"The Taliban's ability to provide bin Laden a haven in the face of international pressure and UN sanctions was significantly facilitated by Pakistani support," said the report from the panel popularly known as the 9/11 commission.

The Taliban faction that seized Kabul was itself supported by Pakistan, the report noted. Even when headquartered in Sudan, said the 12-page report, al Qaeda had used Pakistan and Afghanistan as regional bases and training centres supporting Islamic insurgencies in Tajikistan, Kashmir and Chechnya.

The training at al Qaeda and associated camps was multi-faceted in nature, it said.

"A worldwide jihad needed terrorists who could bomb embassies or hijack airliners, but it also needed foot soldiers for the Taliban in its war against the Northern Alliance, and guerrillas who could shoot down Russian helicopters in Chechnya or ambush Indian units in Kashmir.

"Thus, most recruits received training that was primarily geared towards conventional warfare. Terrorist training was provided mostly to the best and most ardent recruits," the report said.

"The quality of the training provided at al Qaeda and other jihadist camps was apparently quite good. There was coordination with regard to curriculum and great emphasis on ideological and religious indoctrination. Instruction underscored that the US and Israel were evil, and that the rulers of Arab countries were illegitimate," the report said.

A multimillionaire from a wealthy Saudi family, said the report, Osama bin Laden used his personal wealth and connections to rich Arab contributors to facilitate the flow of fighters into Afghanistan. He provided extensive financing for an entity called the "Bureau of Services" or Maktab al Khidmat. The bureau apparently operated a recruiting network in Muslim communities throughout the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Western Europe and the United States.

"It provided travel funds and guesthouses in Pakistan for recruits and volunteers on the road to the Afghan battlefield. Bin Laden also used his financial network to set up training camps and procure weapons and supplies for Arab fighters, Major Afghan warlords who led forces in the battle against the Soviets also benefited from the use of these camps," the report said.

Following the defeat of the Soviets in the late 1980s, bin Laden formed an organization called 'The Foundation' or al Qaida. Al Qaeda was intended to serve as a foundation upon which to build a global Islamic army. By 1992, bin Laden was focused on attacking the United States.

"The camps created a climate in which trainees and other personnel were free to think creatively about ways to commit mass murder," it said.

According to a senior al Qaeda associate, various ideas were floated by mujaheedin in Afghanistan: taking over a launcher and forcing Russian scientists to fire a nuclear missile at the United States; mounting mustard gas or cyanide attacks against Jewish areas in Iran; dispensing poison gas into the air conditioning system of a targeted building; and, last but not least, hijacking an aircraft and crashing it into an airport terminal or nearby city."

As time passed and al Qaeda repeatedly and successfully hit US targets, said the report, bin Laden became a legendary figure among militants both inside and outside Afghanistan. He lectured at the camps. His perceived stature and charisma reinforced the zeal of the trainees. Bin Laden also personally evaluated trainees' suitability for terrorist operations, the report said.

 "The camps were able to operate only because of the worldwide network of recruiters, travel facilitators, and document forgers who vetted would-be trainees and helped them get in and out of Pakistan," it stated.

"There are strong indications," said the report, "that elements in both the Pakistani and Iranian governments frequently turned a blind eye to this transit through their respective countries."

After raising money, said the report, al Qaeda frequently moved its money by hawala, an informal and ancient trust-based system for transferring funds. Al Qaeda also used carriers as a secure, albeit slower, way to move funds.

"Bin Laden," said the report, "relied on the established hawala networks operating in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and throughout the Middle East to transfer funds efficiently.

"Hawaladars associated with al Qaeda may have used banks to move and store money, as did various al Qaeda fundraisers and operatives outside of Afghanistan, but there is little evidence that bin Laden or his core al Qaeda members used banks in this period," it said.

The CIA estimates that al Qaeda spent $30 million annually, including paying for terrorist operations, maintaining terrorist camps, paying salaries to militants, contributing to the Taliban, funding fighters in Afghanistan, and sporadically contributing to related terrorist organisations.

The largest expense was payments to the Taliban, which totalled an estimated $10 to 20 million per year. Actual terrorist operations were relatively cheap.

"Although there is evidence that al Qaeda experienced funding shortfalls as part of the cyclical fundraising process (with more money coming during the holy month of Ramadan), "we are not aware of any evidence indicating that terrorist acts were interrupted as a result," the report said.

Al Qaida, said the report, remains extremely interested in conducting chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks. In 1994, al Qaeda operatives attempted to purchase uranium for $1.5 million; the uranium proved to be fake. Though this attempt failed, al Qaeda continues to pursue its strategic objective of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Likewise, it remains interested in using a radiological dispersal device or "dirty bomb." Documents found in al Qaeda facilities contain accurate information on the usage and impact of such weapons. Regardless of the tactic, the report said, al Qaeda is actively striving to attack the United States and inflict mass casualties.

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