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Context of 'May 1992-Spring 1993: ISI Helps Ramzi Yousef Travel, Then Helps Him Avoid Capture'

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Ramzi Yousef’s passport photo.Ramzi Yousef’s passport photo. [Source: National Geographic]Ramzi Yousef gets considerable help from the Pakistani ISI. When Yousef returns to Pakistan on May 15, 1992, he uses an Iraqi passport bearing a visa issued by the Pakistani embassy in Baghdad. However, the seal on the visa is not the official one and the signature of the visa officer is faked. A senior US intelligence official will later say, “Yousef was developing high-level contacts in Pakistani intelligence through his links with bin Laden, mainly in the ISI. It’s a dirty mess. They facilitated much of his travel. Getting airport officials to turn a blind eye to his travel would have been nothing. (Reeve 1999, pp. 136-137) Then, on August 31, 1992, Yousef and Ahmed Ajaj are able to fly from Pakistan to the US despite lacking the proper papers to leave Pakistan. US intelligence officials will later claim senior ISI officials helped Yousef enter the US. (Reeve 1999, pp. 139) When Ramzi Yousef’s Pakistani immigration records are checked after the WTC bombing, it is discovered his embarkation card and other documents had mysterious disappeared. ISI agents had access to the room where the records were stored. The FBI later gives the Pakistani government the names of Pakistani officials they suspect were colluding with terrorists, but apparently it is never discovered for sure who helped Yousef. One US investigator will later say, “Bin Laden had friends in the ISI who had funded him during the war in Afghanistan. The same contacts were cultivated by Yousef and members of his family.” (Reeve 1999, pp. 48-49)

US agents uncover photographs showing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has ties with the Pakistani ISI. Several weeks after the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), US agents come to Pakistan to search for Ramzi Yousef for his part in that bombing. Searching the house of Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, Yousef’s uncle, they find photographs of Zahid and KSM, who is also one of Yousef’s uncles, with close associates of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (Bokhari et al. 2/15/2003) According to another account, the pictures actually show Zahid with Sharif, and also with Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, president of Pakistan until his death in 1988. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 66) Pictures of Osama bin Laden are also found. US agents are unable to catch Yousef because Pakistani agents tip him off prior to the US raids. Yousef is able to live a semi-public life (for instance, he attends weddings), despite worldwide publicity naming him as a major terrorist. The Financial Times will later note that Yousef, KSM, and their allies “must have felt confident that their ties to senior Pakistani Islamists, whose power had been cemented within the country’s intelligence service [the ISI], would prove invaluable.” (Bokhari et al. 2/15/2003) Several months later, Yousef and KSM unsuccessfully attempt to assassinate Benazir Bhutto, who is prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s (see July 1993). She is an opponent of Sharif and the ISI. (Bhutto 9/21/2001; Gunaratna 3/3/2003) The Los Angeles Times will later report that KSM “spent most of the 1990s in Pakistan. Pakistani leadership through the 1990s sympathized with Osama bin Laden’s fundamentalist rhetoric. This sympathy allowed [him] to operate as he pleased in Pakistan.” (McDermott 6/24/2002)

Ramzi Yousef and his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) unsuccessfully try to assassinate Behazir Bhutto, the leader of the opposition in Pakistan at the time. Yousef, with his friend Abdul Hakim Murad, plan to detonate a bomb near Bhutto’s home as she is leaving it. However, they are stopped by a police patrol. Yousef had hidden the bomb when the police approached, and after they left the bomb is accidentally set off, severely injuring him. (Ressa 2003, pp. 25) KSM is in Pakistan at the time and will visit Yousef in the hospital, but his role in the bombing appears to be limited to funding it. (Ressa 2003, pp. 25; Gunaratna 3/3/2003) Bhutto had been prime minister in Pakistan before and will return to power later in 1993 until 1996. She will later claim, “As a moderate, progressive, democratically elected woman prime minister of Pakistan, I was a threat to the fundamentalist zealots on multiple levels…” She claims they had “the support of sympathetic elements within Pakistan’s security apparatus,” a reference to the ISI intelligence agency. (Bhutto 9/21/2001) This same year, US agents uncover photographs showing KSM with close associates of previous Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Bhutto’s main political enemy at the time. Presumably, this failed assassination will later give KSM and Yousef some political connection and cover with the political factions opposed to Bhutto (see Spring 1993). Sharif will serve as prime minister again from 1997 to 1999. (Bokhari et al. 2/15/2003)

When bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan (see May 18, 1996), he was forced to leave most of his personal fortune behind. Additionally, most of his training camps were in Sudan and those camps had to be left behind as well. But after the Taliban conquers most of Afghanistan and forms an alliance with bin Laden (see After May 18, 1996-September 1996), the Pakistani ISI persuades the Taliban to return to bin Laden the Afghanistan training camps that he controlled in the early 1990s before his move to Sudan. The ISI subsidizes the cost of the camps, allowing bin Laden to profit from the fees paid by those attending them. The ISI also uses the camps to train militants who want to fight against Indian forces in Kashmir. (Wright 2006, pp. 250) In 2001, a Defense Intelligence Agency agent will write about the al-Badr II camp at Zhawar Kili. “Positioned on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was built by Pakistan contractors funded by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), and protected under the patronage of a local and influential Jadran tribal leader, Jalalludin [Haqani],” the agent writes. “However, the real host in that facility was the Pakistani ISI. If this was later to be bin Laden’s base, then serious questions are raised by the early relationship between bin Laden and Pakistan’s ISI.” (Defense Intelligence Agency 10/2/2001 pdf file)


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