Smoking al-Qaeda out of
By B Raman
United States officials may not admit it openly lest
they embarrass President General Pervez Musharraf,
Pakistan's military dictator, 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
in Sindh province from the tribal areas of the
North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the
Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.
When the dregs of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the
various components of the Osama bin Laden-led
International Islamic Front shifted from Afghanistan to
Pakistan, they had initially taken shelter in the FATA.
During the past four to six months they have spread
themselves out to Karachi, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir
(POK) and the Northern Areas (NA - Gilgit and
There are presently three
concentrations of the International Islamic Front inside
Pakistan - the Uzbeck and the Chechen dregs have taken
shelter in the NWFP and the FATA; the Arabs of al-Qaeda,
and some Pashtuns of the Taliban, have taken refuge in
Karachi; and the Pakistanis of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
(LJ), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the
Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami
(HUJI) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) have taken shelter
in Karachi, the POK and the NA. While the LET is mostly
based in the POK and the NA, 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 the
POK and the NA.
Until August, 2002, the main
focus of the US operations was 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 (TECHHINT) support.
achieved were not commensurate with the efforts put in.
Among the reasons were poor intelligence, even
misleading intelligence from Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan warlords and the
leakage of the operational plans of the US troops to the
terrorists before their hideouts were raided.
During this period, practically all the dregs of
al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the five Pakistani components
of the International Islamic Front managed to get out of
the tribal belt and flee in small groups to Karachi, the
POK and the NA. Some, led by Abu Zubaida, even managed
to take shelter at Faislabad in Punjab, but they were
smoked out and arrested in the last week of March, 2002.
Investigations by Sindh police into all the
terrorist incidents directed against US and other
Western nationals and interests since the beginning of
this year on Pakistani territory brought out that all
these attacks were carried out by the Pakistani dregs of
the International Islamic Front and that the
conspiracies were hatched and the planning was done in
Karachi, even though in some cases the attacks were
carried out in places other than Karachi.
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 the POK and the NA. Since
their terrorism is largely directed against Indian
nationals and interests in Jammu & Kashmir
(J&K), the US does not feel unduly concerned over
their activities and does not feel the need to divert
its resources to those areas adjoining Indian territory.
The Pakistani security forces have not so far
made any important catches in the FATA. They have been
following the same methods which the British used before
1947 under the British-promulgated Frontier Crime
Regulations (FCRs), which are still in force -
collective punishments, demolition of the houses and
seizure of the property of uncooperative villagers. 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.
Until last month, the 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 pointed out
that all those arrested in connection with the
kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel
Pearl and subsequent incidents were Pakistanis and that
no Arabs were involved.
Even though the members
of the LJ detained by the Sindh police spoke about the
involvement of Yemeni-Balochis in the murder of Pearl,
no attempt was made to trace them. The encounter at
Karachi on September 11, which led to the death of two
terrorists (Mohammad Khalid and Saleh Ibrahim, both
reported to be Yemenis) and the capture of one Saudi,
one Egyptian and eight Yemenis clearly establishes that
the hard core of al-Qaeda has been living in Karachi and
operating from there and not from the NWFP or the FATA.
One of those killed is suspected to be a
Yemeni-Balochi who slit the throat of Pearl. Among the
Yemenis arrested is Ramzi Binalshibh, who was being
hunted by the investigative and intelligence agencies of
Germany and the US since September. His arrest could
prove to be as significant, if not more, than that of
Abu Zubaidah, 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 September.
He was to have been the 20th hijacker,
but could not enter the US due to refusal of visa.
He had participated in a preparatory
meeting in Afghanistan (November 1999) and in two
meetings in Malaysia (January 2000 and the second in
He had played a role in the
transmission of funds to the terrorists undergoing
flying training in the US.
Since the US air strikes started in
Afghanistan in October, he and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad
had been moving together and living together in Karachi.
A staffer of Qatari television station Al Jazeera (Yosri
Fouda) interviewed both of them in a secret location in
Karachi, during which they boasted about al-Qaeda's role
in September 11.
experts believe that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was probably
the brain behind September 11. In 1995, he and Ramzi
Yousef together plotted from their hideouts in the
Philippines a series of terrorist strikes against the
US, which did not materialize. 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
relating to the New York World Trade Center explosion
case, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammad managed to evade arrest
and emerged as one of the principal aides of Osama bin
Laden, when the latter returned to Afghanistan in 1996.
Western media have in recent weeks quoted a
senior US intelligence official as saying that if he had
to decide between catching Osama bin Laden and Khalid
Sheikh 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
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed also uses the
aliases Abdul Majid, Salim Ali, Ashrai Refaat, Nabith
Renin, Khalid Abdul Waddod and Fahd Bin Abdullah Bin
Khalid. Police in the Philippines have described him as
a Kuwaiti-born and US-educated Pakistani. If he is
definitively established to be a Pakistani, this would
show that September 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 Karachi police that during a visit to Afghanistan
before September 11 he had come to know of the plans for
the 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
A number of
interesting/intriguing questions about Ramzi Yousef and
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad 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 have consistently referred to Ramzi
Yousef either as a person of Middle Eastern background
or as an Iraqi).
An interesting aspect of the
raid in Karachi of September 11 has not received the
attention it deserves. The so-called encounter lasted
nearly four hours before the terrorists could be
arrested. The authorities of the ISI have claimed that
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.
The 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 Sheikh Mohammad, or enable them to
escape. While Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems to have
escaped, Binalshib was caught alive.
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.
March,1993, he had close contacts not only with the ISI,
but also, through the ISI, with the HUM and the HUJI. At
the instance of the ISI, Dawood Ibrahim's men, who
carried out the Mumbai explosions, were trained in the
camps of the HUM/HUJI near Peshawar, run with the ISI's
Since settling down in Karachi in
1994, Dawood Ibrahim has enjoyed the protection of the
ISI and Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, with many
retired intelligence officers now working in his
security set-up. Unless the US and the UN also turn
their attention to Dawood Ibrahim and his mafia, have
their bank accounts frozen and 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 is Additional Secretary (ret),
Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently
director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; member
of the National Security Advisory Board of the
Government of India. E-Mail: [email protected] He was also
head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research
& Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence
agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.
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