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Context of 'March 16, 2008: US Predator Drone Kills at Least 16 in Pakistan'

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The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Osama bin Laden, International Islamic Relief Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Midhat Mursi.Midhat Mursi. [Source: Washington Post]Agents of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, examine an aerial photo and spot al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) standing close to Osama bin Laden. Mursi is considered al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert (he will apparently be killed in 2006 (see January 13, 2006). French intelligence reports from before 9/11 show that Mursi is being closely watched by intelligence agencies, with the French exchanging information about him with the Mossad, CIA, and Egyptian intelligence. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] The quality of the aerial photo must have been extremely high in order for Mursi and bin Laden to be recognized, but it has not been explained how such a photo was obtained or what other photos of bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders may have been taken before 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the US begins flying Predator drones over Afghanistan to track bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Midhat Mursi, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence agency, DGSE, publishes nine intelligence reports between these dates on the subject of al-Qaeda threats against the US. Over three hundred pages of classified DGSE reports on al-Qaeda from July 2000 to October 2001 will be leaked to a French reporter in 2007. One of the nine reports on attacks against the US, dated January 5, 2001, will be detailed in a 2007 French newspaper article (see January 5, 2001), but the contents of the other eight remain unknown. DGSE officials will later claim that such reports would have certainly been passed on to the CIA. None of the contents of any of these French reports will be mentioned in the 2004 9/11 Commission report. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex.The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex. [Source: CBC]An unmanned spy plane called the Predator begins flying over Afghanistan, showing incomparably detailed real-time video and photographs of the movements of what appears to be bin Laden and his aides. It flies successfully over Afghanistan 16 times. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] President Clinton is impressed by a two-minute video of bin Laden crossing a street heading toward a mosque inside his Tarnak Farms complex. Bin Laden is surrounded by a team of a dozen armed men creating a professional forward security perimeter as he moves. The Predator has been used since 1996, in the Balkans and Iraq. One Predator crashes on takeoff and another is chased by a fighter, but it apparently identifies bin Laden on three occasions. Its use is stopped in Afghanistan after a few trials, mostly because seasonal winds are picking up. It is agreed to resume the flights in the spring, but the Predator fails to fly over Afghanistan again until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] On September 15, 2001, CIA Director Tenet apparently inaccurately tells President Bush, “The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan.” [Washington Post, 1/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile.A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. [Source: US Air Force]An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. [CBS News, 6/25/2003] In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003] She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Osama bin Laden, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a Pakistani village named Damadola, in the tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Apparently, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is targeted but not killed. Thirteen civilians, including women and children, are killed. Pakistani officials say four al-Qaeda operatives may have been killed as well, including bomb maker Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri), who has a $5 million bountry on his head. After the attack, villagers insist no members of al-Qaeda were anywhere near the village when it was hit. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] US and Pakistani officials later say that no al-Qaeda leaders were killed in the strike, only local villagers. It appears that the intelligence tip that led to the strike was bad, and al-Zawahiri and the others were never there in the first place. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] The attack leads to a surge in support for al-Qaeda in Pakistan, including many marches of support near the targeted area. [ABC News, 1/18/2006; Associated Press, 1/22/2006] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemns the attack as a violation of sovereignty and says it “was definitely not coordinated with [Pakistan].” [Washington Post, 1/31/2006] Al-Zawahiri appears in a video later in the month, taunting the US for failing to kill him in the raid. [BBC, 1/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Midhat Mursi, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Dr. Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, claims he has seen evidence indicating that Osama bin Laden is either dead or seriously ill. The evidence was provided by an Indian colleague and indicated bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April 2005. “It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I’ve been provided with that he’s certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage,” Williams comments, adding that bin Laden has not released a statement for some time. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/16/2006] Bin Laden releases a new audio statement three days later (see January 19, 2006), but the origin of this tape will be questioned (see January 19, 2006). [Christian Science Monitor, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Clive Williams, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Professor Bruce Lawrence.Professor Bruce Lawrence. [Source: Duke University]Duke University professor Bruce Lawrence questions a tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden released on this day. In it, bin Laden comments on the progress of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and offers the US a truce (see January 19, 2006). The CIA says the voice on the tape is bin Laden’s, but Lawrence, who edited a collection of bin Laden’s speeches, is skeptical, saying that “[i]t was like a voice from the grave” and that the message is missing several key elements: “There’s nothing in this from the Koran. He’s, by his own standards, a faithful Muslim. He [usually] quotes scripture in defense of his actions. There’s no quotation from the Koran in the excerpts we got.” Lawrence also points out that, at 10 minutes, it is the shortest message ever issued by bin Laden. Lawrence questions when the tape was recorded, arguing that the timing of its release could be to divert attention from a recent strike in Pakistan during which civilians were killed (see January 13, 2006) and that bin Laden may actually be dead. [WTDV-TV, 1/19/2006; BBC, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bruce Lawrence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Excerpts from a new video from a man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri are aired on Al Jazeera television. The release follows a failed US attempt to kill al-Zawahiri with a missile two weeks ago (see January 13, 2006). The man said to be al-Zawahiri says that the airstrike killed innocent people and comments: “Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses.” Analyst Jere Van Dyk says that releasing the video is al-Zawahiri’s way of letting the Muslim world know: “I’m alive, you missed me! And I am still very strong.” The man in the video also comments: “Butcher of Washington, you are not only defeated and a liar, but also a failure. You are a curse on your own nation and you have brought and will bring them only catastrophes and tragedies.” The speaker, who wears white robes and a white turban against a black background in the video, calls Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf a “traitor,” and criticizes the US for rejecting an offer of a truce made by Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 1/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Jere Van Dyk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Jacques Chirac, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The above still is from the bin Laden speech footage released in late 2006, and the below still is from the film <i>The Road to Guantanamo</i> released in early 2006. The date stamps are 1/8/2000 and 8/1/2000. In the film it is speculated the speech could have been from January or August 2000.The above still is from the bin Laden speech footage released in late 2006, and the below still is from the film The Road to Guantanamo released in early 2006. The date stamps are 1/8/2000 and 8/1/2000. In the film it is speculated the speech could have been from January or August 2000. [Source: London Times / Sony Pictures]A new videotape showing bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, and Ziad Jarrah in Afghanistan before 9/11 is leaked to the media. NBC reports that the US military obtained the tape at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in late 2001. NBC filed a freedom of information act request for the video earlier in 2006, but still had not gotten copies when the London Times somehow got a copy and released it. [MSNBC, 9/30/2006] The Times will only say the video was passed to them “through a previously tested channel. On condition of anonymity, sources from both al-Qaeda and the United States have confirmed its authenticity.” There is no sound, and the Times claims that “lip-readers have failed to decipher it, according to a US source.” One part of the tape shows bin Laden addressing a crowd of about 100 followers on January 8, 2000. Another part of the tape shows Atta and Jarrah together at an Afghanistan training camp on January 18, 2000, apparently while they read their wills. [London Times, 10/1/2006] Ben Venzke, head of a group monitoring terrorism communications called the IntelCentre, says, “It is highly unlikely that al-Qaeda wanted the material to be released in this manner and it is not consistent with any previous release.” He notes that bin Laden previously said he was saving Atta’s last will for a special occasion. This release could have spoiled those plans. Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, finds it strange the cameraman focuses on bin Laden’s audience instead of on bin Laden, clearly identifying many of the people in the crowd. “Was this a video by al-Qaeda or by a security agency? I have never seen such a video.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2006] Further, it is noted on the Internet that footage of bin Laden’s speech is remarkably similar to footage of a bin Laden speech in The Road to Guantanamo, a docu-drama released in March 2006. While the film is mostly made up of reenactments, it is based on the real cases of several Guantanamo prisoners and shows one of them being asked to identify himself in the speech footage in 2003.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Dia Rashwan, Ben Venzke, Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Chenagai madrassa after the Predator strike.The Chenagai madrassa after the Predator strike. [Source: BBC]The US launches a Predator drone missile strike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Bajour district of Pakistan’s tribal region, then Pakistan sends in helicopters to attack the survivors. The aim is to kill al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he is not there. Pakistani officials initially claim that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are killed, including Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an operational leader. But the next day they only say that some Taliban members are killed. [ABC News, 10/30/2006; ABC News, 10/31/2006] The attack is said to have killed 82, many of them students at the madrassa located in Chenagai, a hamlet of Damadola village, which had been hit by a Predator strike earlier in the year (see January 13, 2006). [London Times, 11/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Ubaida al-Masri, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

French investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquie writes an article for Le Monde detailing the extensive knowledge obtained by the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about al-Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001. The article is based on a series of DGSE reports leaked to Dasquie about al-Qaeda’s funding (see July 24, 2000), aerial photographs of Osama bin Laden (see August 28, 2000), and al-Qaeda threats against the US (see Between September 2000 and August 2001), including aircraft piracy. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 7/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Guillaume Dasquie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A map of recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal zones. (1) is the March 16, 2008 attack, (2) is the February 28, 2008 attack, and (3) is the January 29, 2008 attack that killed Abu Laith al-Libi.A map of recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal zones. (1) is the March 16, 2008 attack, (2) is the February 28, 2008 attack, and (3) is the January 29, 2008 attack that killed Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Washington Post]On January 9, 2008, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden visit Pakistan and meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan agrees to allow the US to increase its use of Predator drones to strike at al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region. [New York Times, 2/22/2008] At least three Predator attacks follow in the next months (see January 29, 2008, February 28, 2008, March 16, 2008) after a year of few or no attacks. Previously, Musharraf had issues with such strikes, but now the US has his unofficial tacit approval. Newsweek reports that the US now has “virtually unrestricted authority to hit targets in the border areas.” The US has pushed for more strikes partly because al-Qaeda has been launching more attacks from the tribal regions. But also, US officials are concerned that Musharraf is losing power and the new leaders will be more hostile to US operations in Pakistan. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008] Some of the Predator attacks are launched from secret CIA bases near the Pakistani towns of Islamabad and Jacobabad. The bases are first publicly mentioned in February 2008, and next to nothing is known about them. [New York Times, 2/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Michael Hayden, Mike McConnell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Laith al-Libi.Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Associated Press]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a house in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The missile reportedly kills about 13 people. Some of them are said to be militants, and US officials will later confirm that one of those killed is al-Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi. He is considered a top field commander and a liaison between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008] He is relatively unknown to the public, but in September 2007, the Washington Post profiled him as about one of a dozen of the most important current al-Qaeda leaders. He also survived a US rocket attack in June 2007. [Washington Post, 9/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Abu Laith al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 12 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Kaloosha, near the Afghan border. Some suspected militants are reportedly killed, but details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 16 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Toog in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region where al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be residing. The house is said to belong to an unnamed militant leader, and several militants are reportedly killed. However, details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Newsweek, 3/22/2008]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Damadola Strike in May 2008.Damadola Strike in May 2008. [Source: Mohammed Sajjad Associated Press]A missile fired from a US Predator drone reportedly kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Suleiman al-Jazairi. He and 15 others are killed in the strike on a house in the village of Damadola in Pakistan’s tribal region. The house is said to belong to former Taliban defense minister Maulvi Obaidullah, and members of Obaidullah’s family, including women and children, are thought to be among the dead. Al-Jazairi is said to be a trainer and explosives expert, and involved in planning attacks in Europe. Damadola has been hit by drones twice before (see January 13, 2006 and October 30, 2006). Al-Jazairi was little known in the media prior to the strike. [New York Times, 5/16/2008; Observer, 6/1/2008] Obaidullah apparently is not killed. He had been imprisoned in Pakistan since 2003, and had been released several days before as part of a swap for Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin, who had been kidnapped in February. [PAN, 5/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Tariq Azizuddin, Maulvi Obaidullah, Abu Suleiman al-Jazairi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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