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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells ABC News that there are on 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal region. He says that the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan is “relatively small.… At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He also says that bin Laden “is in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He concedes that the CIA has not had good intelligence on bin Laden’s location for a long time. “It’s been a while. I think it goes back almost to the early 2000s, you know in terms of actually when [bin Laden] was leaving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then it has been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” (Date 6/27/2010) Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
A Washington Post article suggests that Hamid Gul, head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, has been frequently linked to recent Islamist militant activity. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and in the 1980s Gul worked closely with the US to support the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and defeat the Soviets there (see April 1987). The Post article states that “more than two decades later, it appears that General Gul is still at work. [Newly leaked] documents indicate that he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.” The Post is referring to thousands of classified US government documents made public by WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group. The documents often appear to be raw intelligence that sometimes turns out to be inaccurate. But nonetheless, the Post notes that “General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.”
Link to Recent Taliban and Al-Qaeda Activity - For example, according to one intelligence report, Gul met with a group of militants in South Waziristan (in Pakistan’s tribal region), on January 5, 2009. He allegedly met with Taliban and al-Qaeda figures, and planned an attack to avenge the death of al-Qaeda leader Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), who had been killed several days earlier by a US drone strike (see January 1, 2009). The group discussed driving a truck rigged with explosives into Afghanistan to be used against US forces there. According to another report, in January 2008, Gul directed the Taliban to kidnap high-level United Nations personnel in Afghanistan to trade for captured Pakistani soldiers. (Stein 7/26/2010)
Gul Frequently Mentioned in Intelligence Reports - Gul lives openly in an exclusive district of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and he frequently shares his pro-Taliban views with reporters. But a Der Spiegel article published on this day notes that the nearly 92,000 documents recently published by WikiLeaks “suggest that Gul is more than just a garrulous old man. If the accusations are true, Gul isn’t just an ally of the Taliban in spirit, but is also supplying them with weapons and thereby actively taking part in the fight against Western forces. Gul is effectively being accused of being an important helper of the Taliban, and possibly even one of their leaders.” In fact, “The name Hamid Gul appears more often than virtually any other” in the documents. (Kazim 7/26/2010)
Gul Still Linked to Pakistani Government? - Gul denies all the allegations. Pakistani officials also deny that Gul still works with the ISI in any way. But the Post reports: “Despite his denials, General Gul keeps close ties to his former employers. When a reporter visited General Gul this spring for an interview at his home, the former spy master canceled the appointment. According to his son, he had to attend meetings at army headquarters.” (Stein 7/26/2010) In late 2008, the US government attempted to put Gul on a United Nations list of terrorist supporters, but apparently that move has been blocked by other countries (see December 7, 2008).
Pakistani intelligence begins monitoring Tahir Shehzad, an apparent al-Qaeda facilitator who lives in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Shehzad lives only about two miles away from where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but apparently Pakistani investigators are not aware of bin Laden’s hideout at this time.
Who Is Shehzad? - Shehzad works as a clerk in Abbottabad’s main post office. One relative will later say that Shehzad was “a jihadist through and through.” According to an article published in April 2011, shortly before the US raid on bin Laden’s hideout, Shehzad is first suspected in 2010 when he is spotted with an “Arab terror suspect.” The name of this suspect has not yet been made public. (Brummitt and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Mir 5/3/2011; Mayr 5/18/2011) Another account will claim that Shehzad was monitored after he was received suspiciously large cash transfers. (Lamb 5/23/2011) Shehzad will be arrested in January 2011 after he leaves Abbottabad to meet two suspected militants from France in a nearby town. He will then confess the location of Indonesian militant leader Umar Patek, who is arrested in Abbottabad that same month (see January 25, 2011).
Alternate Account for Bin Laden Intel? - The News, a Pakistani newspaper, will later report that anonymous Pakistani government sources claim the surveillance and then arrest of Shehzad led Pakistani investigators to bin Laden’s hideout before the US raid that kills bin Laden in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Furthermore, these same sources claim that the Shehzad lead is the real intelligence coup that led to the US raid. (Mir 5/3/2011) An unnamed CIA official will later say, “It is quite possible a false or partial narrative was given of how bin Laden was found. … Intelligence can only function in silence and in the dark - protecting source and method is very important.” (Lamb 5/23/2011)
ABC’s Terry Moran interviews Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, who has gained notoriety by publicly announcing his intention to burn a Koran as part of what he has called “International Burn a Koran Day” (see July 12, 2010 and After). Jones says he and his church have conducted demonstrations before against the Islamic religion, which he calls “evil” and a source of worldwide terrorism. His plans, as they now stand, are to burn a Koran on September 11, in commemoration, he says, of those who died during the 9/11 attacks, and to protest “radical Islam” and “Shari’a law.” Such an act is itself “radical,” he admits, but “we feel that a radical message is necessary. We also want to send a message to the moderate Muslim to stay peaceful and moderate. We live in America, we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, they are more than welcome to be here, worship, build mosques, but we do not want as it appears to be in parts of the world after they gain in numbers in population they begin to push Shari’a law, that type of government. We expect the Muslims that are here in America to respect honor, obey, submit to our Constitution.” Jones says he has no problem burning the holy book of another religion, and cites Scripture which he says justifies the burning of books that are “damaging” and “dangerous” to a Christian society. He denies that the planned burning is a “publicity stunt,” and says he and his church members are “risking our lives” by carrying through with their plans: “We have had over a hundred death threats. Some of them have been very graphic.”
Admits Most Muslims Will Be 'Hurt and Insulted' by Koran Burning - Jones admits that most of the world’s Muslims will be “hurt and insulted” by the Koran-burning, and explains: “Well, when people burn the flag, when they burn the Bible, when they burn down churches, I’m also hurt and insulted. But we feel that this message to that radical element is that important. In fact to a certain extent we would expect moderate Muslims to agree with us. We would expect for them to say the burning of the Koran we don’t agree with, that’s not a message that we agree with. We do not believe that this man, this church, this society should burn our holy book, there is no problem with that. But the message we are trying to send with that even Muslims should agree with. We are trying to send a message to the radical element of Islam. They should also be against that. Because it makes their religion look very, very bad. They should also stand to that and say: ‘Yes, that we agree with. We do not want Shari’a law. We do not want radical fanaticism Islam.’”
'Millions of People ... Agree with Us' - Told by Moran that “millions” of American Christians are “revolted” by his plans to burn a Koran, Jones responds that “there are also millions of people who agree with us.” He cites polls that his church has conducted, and that he says prove between “40 and 60 percent of the population agree with us.… We’ve had several times pastors come here saying: ‘We are in agreement with you, what you are doing is right, or anyway the message that you are wanting to send is right. But we can’t say anything. If we do we will lose our congregation.’ We have people who work for large companies have stopped out front and said, ‘We are in agreement with you but if we say anything we will be fired.’ That is in a country where we supposedly have free speech.”
Holy War? - Asked if his burning of a Koran and his invitation to Christians to join in the burning are not incitements to “holy war,” Jones responds: “If [American Christians] have a problem with the burning of the Koran, that’s fine. I realize the actual burning of the Koran is a radical statement we feel very convinced about it, we plan on doing it, we feel its very necessary. But if Christians were to say that’s too much for us or just normal people, they say the actual burning of the Koran is too much for us, that’s fine. I can absolutely understand that. That is no problem. But they should, all Christians should agree with our message. Our message is that radical Islam is dangerous, let’s keep an eye on it, let’s say no to it. and from a Christian standpoint they have to agree with us. Because according to Christianity, Jesus Christ is the only way. And the Koran does not recognize the resurrection, the virgin birth, that Jesus died for our sins, that he’s the son of God, that he’s God. So from the Christian standpoint they must agree with us.” Jones says that if Jesus Christ were alive today, he would “absolutely” join in the burning of Korans. Moran says the burning of a Koran is “hateful,” and asks if there is not some other way to get his message across. Jones says that radical Islamists must be met by radical acts from those such as himself who oppose them. He says that no Muslim, moderate or radical, should react with violence to any such Koran-burning: “I don’t like it when they burn the Bible. I don’t like it when in Afghanistan when they burn the flag but I also do not serve a god of violence. It doesn’t make me want to kill people. It doesn’t make me want to storm an embassy. It doesn’t make me want to call for the death of the president and that is what we are trying to reveal. Of course its insulting. Of course it’s not a nice thing to do.” The burning would not be an act of “holy war,” he insists.
Concerns from Military Commander - Moran tells Jones that General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, has expressed his concern about any such Koran-burning (see September 6, 2010), and warned that such an action would jeopardize the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; moreover, such an action would be used to recruit Muslims to extremist groups such as al-Qaeda. Jones calls Petraeus’s concerns “valid,” but says to call off the Koran-burning would be “backing down,” and he has no intention of doing so.
Turning the Other Cheek - Moran asks, “Didn’t Jesus say love your enemy and if you’re struck on one cheek, turn the other cheek?” Jones agrees, and says that Christians should follow that principle “90 percent” or “95 percent, 99 percent of the time.” However, this is not one of those times, he says. “[N]ow is not the time to turn the other cheek, now is the time to face challenge.”
Rejection by Fellow Christians - Other Christian churches in Gainesville are conducting services where passages from the Koran are being read, to oppose Jones’s plans and to encourage outreach towards Muslims. Jones calls those actions “an abomination,” and says only the Bible should be read in any Christian church. “[F]or us to read that book from pulpits, that, that is absolutely terrible.… Christianity is not open minded.… And when we do acts like that we have left the Bible, those people are not Christians, those men of God do not represent Jesus Christ.” He acknowledges that his Koran-burning may put fellow Gainesville Christians and others at risk of reprisal, but says the symbolic action is worth the risk.
Problems with Law Enforcement - Jones says he and his church have been repeatedly denied open-burn permits by local officials, in what he says are efforts to prevent him from burning the Koran in the front yard of the church as planned. He calls the denials an abrogation of his First Amendment rights, and compares his actions to the civil disobedience practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights protests. The FBI and local police will be on hand on September 11 for the burning, he says.
Conclusion - The interview concludes as follows:
Moran: “And as of right now you’re going to go forward and burn Korans on Sept. 11th.”
Jones: “As of right now our plans are to still burn the Koran on Sept. 11th. Yes.”
Moran: “Such a hurtful thing to do to somebody.”
Jones: “It’s an insult. But we feel that the end message is more important than the insult. Of course it’s not a compliment when you burn the bible or the flag or the Muslims’ Koran, obviously not.”
Moran: “It’s sacrireligious, it’s a desecration of what they hold sacred and precious.”
Jones: “To them. Of course to us, the Koran is an evil book, an evil deceptive book.” (Moran 9/9/2010)
Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, called the Dove World Outreach Center, calls off his announced plan to burn copies of the Koran, apparently in response to worldwide condemnation and pleas to abandon the idea (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 6-9, 2010). Among many voices raised against Jones is a stern adjuration from President Obama that to burn a Koran, as Jones had announced he would, amounted to placing American troops in danger and serving as a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2010). Jones and his associate pastor, Wayne Sapp, announce the decision on September 9, and on the morning of September 10, appear on NBC’s morning talk show The Today Show to discuss the situation. They are interviewed in the studio by Carl Quintanilla. Jones says he and Sapp have come to New York to try to talk with a local imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, about announced plans to build the Cordoba Center, a Muslim community center and mosque, a few blocks from the former World Trade Center. (The Center will later be renamed Park51.) Jones says he has already received assurances from Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, that the Cordoba Center will be relocated. However, Musri tells the reporter that no such relocation deal has been struck, but he and Jones intend to meet with Rauf to discuss the proposed relocation. Rauf says he knows of no plans to meet with Musri and Jones, and has no intention of relocating the center. Jones tells Quintanilla: “We feel that we have somewhat of a common denominator in the fact that most people do not want the mosque near Ground Zero. And, of course, I assume all Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran.” Jones says the Koran-burning, scheduled for 6 p.m., has been called off. He says: “[W]e feel that whenever we started this out, one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical. I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission. Even though we have not burned one Koran, we have gotten over 100 death threats, we see what is going around in the whole world even if we do it. We feel a little bit—if you’re familiar with the story of Abraham, we feel a little bit like—Abraham was also called to do something very crazy. I mean, God told him to go to the mountain and sacrifice his son. Of course, Abraham was much wiser than us. He told no one. Yeah. So he got to the mountain. He started to do it, and God told him to stop. So we feel—we feel we have accomplished our goal. We were obedient. We feel that God is telling us to stop. And we also hope that with us making this first gesture, not burning the Koran… to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it.‘… Not today, not ever. We’re not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled. We hope that through that maybe that will open up a door to be able to talk to the iman about—yeah, about the Ground Zero mosque.” Quintanilla presses Jones, asking, “[Y]ou can guarantee us today that there will never be a burning of the Koran at your church?” Jones replies, “I can absolutely guarantee you that, yes.” Sapp explains that he and Jones do not believe that the entire religion of Islam is extremist, as media reports have quoted them as saying: “I believe there are some teachings that are carried on throughout the entire religion. They are as—as there are in denominations in Christianity—there are facets in Islam as well that push one element more than others. But that element is still alive and well throughout the entire religion.” Jones denies that his announced Koran-burning was to garner publicity for himself and his church, calling the planned burning “a mission” and attacking Islam’s “radical” elements. He also denies that the death threats he says he and his church members have received had anything to do with their decision not to go through with the Koran-burning. A “Burn a Koran Day” banner outside the Dove World Outreach Center has been taken down. (Caruso 9/9/2010; MSNBC 9/11/2010) Later in the day, Jones adds that his decision was swayed by a telephone call he received from Defense Secretary Robert Gates (see September 9, 2010), what he terms a promise by Rauf to meet with him, and what he calls a firm promise by Musri that the Cordoba Center will be relocated. He will later accuse Rauf of lying and by the evening, indicates that plans to burn the Koran may be again in the offing (see September 10, 2010). Jones will indeed renege on his promise to not burn a Koran “not today, not ever,” burning a Koran in a public ceremony in March 2011 (see March 20, 2011). The Koran-burning will trigger a protest in Afghanistan that kills 11 people, including seven UN staffers and guards (see April 1, 2011).
In June 2010, Rami Makanesi, a German militant of Syrian descent, is arrested in Pakistan and quickly deported to Germany. He becomes a key source of information on recent al-Qaeda activity, and in return gets only a four-year sentence in Germany. In October 2010, he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda suspects, and he recognizes Said Bahaji in one of them. Bahaji is a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, and fled to Pakistan shortly before the 9/11 attacks (see September 3-5, 2001). He has been wanted in Germany ever since (see September 21, 2001). Makanesi reveals that he spoke to Bahaji in May 2010, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Makanesi says that Bahaji “now looks completely different. He has a long beard and longer hair.” Bahaji is not considered a high ranking al-Qaeda leader, but he is respected because he has been involved so long. Bahaji now works for As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s propaganda and media effort. He is responsible for As-Sahab’s technical infrastructure. (Stark 8/29/2011)
Bahaji Still Not on Any US Wanted List - However, despite this news that Bahaji is not only still alive but continues to have an important al-Qaeda role, the US government has yet to publicly charge Bahaji or put him on any of their most wanted lists, nor has any bounty been announced for him. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/13/2011) Bahaji is not even on the FBI’s “Seeking Information—War on Terrorism” list. A person does not have to be formally charged to be on that list. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 6/5/2011)
An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. (Starr 10/18/2010) When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).
Manfred Murck, the head of intelligence in Hamburg, Germany, expresses frustration that Mamoun Darkazanli is still not imprisoned. In an interview with CNN, Murck says, “We knew him even before 9/11… we still believe that he was, and maybe still is, a kind of representative of al-Qaeda in Hamburg.” Darkazanli was linked to many members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell that included a few of the 9/11 hijackers (see October 9, 1999), and he was suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda since the early 1990s (see 1993 and Late 1998), but the German government never developed enough evidence to charge him. He is wanted in Spain, but the German government has refused to extradite him (see Late April 2007). In recent years, Darkazanli became the imam to the Al-Quds mosque, the same mosque attended by Mohamed Atta and others involved in the 9/11 plot who knew Darkazanli. In March 2009, a group of young men who attended Al-Quds left Hamburg for training camps in Pakistan (see March 5, 2009). Some of them were later arrested and confessed to being involved in a plot to attack targets in Europe. German intelligence officials say that Darkazanli was closely tied to Ahmad Sidiqi and Naamen Meziche, two leaders of the group. (And Meziche appears to have been part of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell before 9/11, but he was never charged with any crime.) Murck believes Darkazanli inspired this latest group of militant recruits, but carefully did so in a way that did not break any laws. He says: “When it comes to the last speeches [Darkazanli] gave them, he told them, ‘Allah help to kill our enemies…’ so it was very general, it was not, ‘Let’s kill that one, or destroy that city.’ It was more a general cry for help to Allah to help the brothers against the enemies, but it was not enough for our police to open an investigation against him.” The Al-Quds mosque was shut down in August 2010 (see August 9, 2010), but German officials are worried that Darkazanli may start preaching at another mosque, which could start a new legal battle. (Robertson and Cruickshank 11/11/2010)
On January 25, 2011, radical militant Umar Patek is arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Patek is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect at the time, because he is the only major suspect wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing who has not yet been killed or captured. The US issued a $1 million bounty on him in 2005 (see October 6, 2005 and After). Patek has $1 million in cash on him when he is arrested, and he is shot in the leg during the arrest. News of Patek’s arrest will become public in late March 2011 (see March 30, 2011). (Toosi 5/4/2011; Randall and Buncombe 5/8/2011) The CIA worked with other countries to get Patek. But Patek stays imprisoned in Pakistan, unlike many other terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan who are deported to the US or elsewhere. (Gannon and Dozier 3/30/2011)
Is Patek There to See to Bin Laden? - After Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), an unnamed senior US counterterrorism official will say that Patek’s presence in the town “appears to have been pure coincidence” and there is no evidence that Patek was meeting with bin Laden there. However, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will later say, “The information we have is that Umar Patek… was in Pakistan with his Filipino wife trying to meet Osama Bin Laden.” Indonesian counterterrorism official Chairul Akbar will further explain that Patek was there to meet bin Laden and get his “support and protection.” Akbar says that Patek “was instructed to go to Abbottabad to meet other militants.” He will also claim that Patek may have met other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but he had not yet met with bin Laden before his arrest. (Associated Press 5/4/2011) Patek’s arrest takes place less than two miles away from where bin Laden is hiding. (Mayr 5/18/2011)
Link to Bin Laden's Key Courier - The Independent will report after bin Laden’s death that Patek met with Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), an al-Qaeda courier who is living with bin Laden in an Abbottabad compound at the time. By this time, US intelligence is intensively monitoring the compound and everyone in it (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). However, the compound is not searched by the Pakistanis during the raid that got Patek, or in the months afterward. (Sengupta 5/3/2011)
Link to Another Al-Qaeda Courier - Additionally, two French men, Sharaf Deen and Zohaib Afza, are arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2001. One of them was born in Pakistan and the other was a convert to Islam. A Pakistani named Tahir Shehzad is arrested with them. Investigators will later say that they trailed Shehzad from Abbottabad to Lahore, and that the French men planned to travel with Patek to Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. Shehzad gave up Patek’s location, which led to his arrest two days later. Later press reports will call Shehzad an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” who worked as a clerk in the Abbottabad post office. Pakistani intelligence had Shehzad under surveillance since 2010, when he was seen in Abbottabad with an “Arab terror suspect” (see August 2010). (Brummitt and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Keaten and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Mir 5/3/2011)
Waiting in Abbottabad for Someone? - Abbottabad resident Abdul Hameed Sohail will later tell the press that his son found Patek and Patek’s wife cold and shivering in the street, and he ended up feeling sorry for them and let them stay in his house. They were given an upstairs room, and for nine days they rarely left the room or even ate the food that he left for them. Finally, Pakistani officials raided the house, shot Patek, and took him away. Sohail is not arrested. However, his son Kashif is arrested as an accomplice, and will still be in custody three months later. Patek and his wife had arrived in Pakistan five months earlier, traveling with forged passports, but it is not known where they were in Pakistan prior to Abbottabad. (Nor is it known what happens to his wife.) (Brummitt and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Mir 5/3/2011; Mayr 5/18/2011)
CIA Tip Off - It also will later be reported that the CIA gave key information to Pakistan about Patek being in Pakistan, which led to his arrest. It may be that the CIA gave the information that Patek had gone to Pakistan five months earlier under another name. (Gannon and Dozier 3/30/2011) In hindsight, this is interesting since the CIA is part of the surveillance of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound at the time, and news of Patek’s arrest could have threatened the effort to find bin Laden.
Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. (Staff 5/1/2011; MURRAY 5/2/2011) Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. (Staff 5/1/2011)
Osama bin Laden’s killing by US forces on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) reignites the debate about the usefulness of the torture techniques used by US intelligence. The debate centers on how US intelligence learned about bin Laden’s location and whether the torture of prisoners helped find him.
Courier Provides the Key Lead - According to Obama administration officials, bin Laden was located through US intelligence agencies’ “patient and detailed intelligence analysis” of “a mosaic of sources,” including evidence garnered from detained inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The first clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts came when US intelligence learned of an al-Qaeda courier that worked with bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, who used the pseudonym “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” Ahmed is one of those killed during the Abbottabad raid. US intelligence had known of Ahmed since 2002, after a Kuwaiti detainee told interrogators about him, and it has taken this long for CIA and other intelligence officers to identify him, locate him, track his communications, and then follow him to the large and well fortified compound in Abbottabad.
Do Bush Administration Techniques Deserve Credit? - Some former Bush administration officials, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, claim that the Bush administration and not the Obama administration deserves the credit for finding bin Laden. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, said the first important leads about Kuwaiti came from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader at the time of his capture.” KSM was repeatedly waterboarded (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003). (richey 5/5/2011) Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey states that the path to bin Laden “began with a disclosure from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” (Mukasy 5/2/2011)
Rebuttal from CIA Director Panetta - However, according to information in a letter CIA Director Leon Panetta sends to Senator John McCain, these assertions are false or misleading. In the letter, Panetta says: “Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one ‘essential and indispensible’ key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence—including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources—led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timely and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to bin Laden. Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.” (Sargent 5/16/2011)
Officials Says Torture Techinques Played No Role - Also, nine US military interrogators and intelligence officials state in an open letter: “The use of waterboarding and other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional US interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Reports say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.” (al 5/4/2011)
The United States believes that at least a dozen senior leaders of al-Qaeda are on the run in Pakistan, according to Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI). He says, “Of the 20 senior leaders in al-Qaeda, at least a dozen of them we believe to be traveling around Pakistan someplace.” Rogers chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and is privy to secret intelligence not even most other members of Congress are briefed about. His comments come one day after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). The Telegraph publishes a list of the 12 wanted in Pakistan, which seems to be based on intelligence from Rogers:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and presumably the top al-Qaeda leader now that bin Laden has been killed.
Saif al-Adel. He possibly is al-Qaeda’s military chief. Possibly recently released from house arrest in Iran.
Suliman Abu Ghaith. He was al-Qaeda’s spokesperson until he was detained in Iran in 2002 or 2003. He apparently was allowed to leave in 2010 (see September 29, 2010), and it is believed he has rejoined al-Qaeda.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. He is said to be on al-Qaeda’s top council. He may also be in Iran.
Adnan Shukrijumah. He used to live in the US, and he may be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in North America.
Rashid Rauf. He was involved in a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain (see August 10, 2006). He escaped from a Pakistani prison in 2007 (see December 14, 2007), and was reported killed by a US drone attack in 2008 (see November 22, 2008), but some sources say he is still alive.
Ilyas Kashmiri. He is thought to have masterminded some recent attacks in India and Pakistan.
Hakimullah Mahsud. He is leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), a group said to be closely allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. (Moore 5/3/2011)
Ghulam Mustafa. He may have been al-Qaeda’s chief in Pakistan, but he was arrested and released twice by the Pakistani government between 2004 and 2006. Other militants now suspect him because of his suspiciously quick releases from prison, but he is still wanted by the US. (Shahzad 1/5/2006; Moore 5/3/2011)
Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. He escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan in 2005 (see July 11, 2005), and has become a respected religious figure for al-Qaeda.
Anas al-Liby. The US has a $5 million reward for him. He may have been arrested in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Qari Saifullah Akhtar. He is the leader of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), a Pakistani militant group. He also is an alleged member of al-Qaeda who was released by Pakistan from custody in December 2010. (Moore 5/3/2011)
A statement allegedly by al-Qaeda confirms the death of top al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and vows revenge. The statement is dated May 3, 2011, one day after the reported time of bin Laden’s death (see May 2, 2011), but it is posted on Islamist militant websites on May 6. The statement reads, in part: “The blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is too precious to us and to all Muslims to go in vain.… We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries.… Soon, God willing, their happiness will turn to sadness… their blood will be mingled with their tears.” The 11-paragraph statement emphasizes the continuation of al-Qaeda despite bin Laden’s death. “Sheik Osama didn’t build an organization to die when he dies.… The soldiers of Islam will continue in groups and united, plotting and planning without getting bored, tired, with determination, without giving up until striking a blow.” The statement’s authenticity cannot be independently confirmed, but it is posted on websites the group usually uses to put out its messages. (Michael 5/6/2011)
Radio Free Europe reports that RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, had long known Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a major al-Qaeda and Taliban operations center. RAW had put the town on a list of such operations centers prior to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The article claims that “[t]he US was watching carefully as well.” For instance, Abbottabad was used by Islamic militant groups to train new recruits for at least a decade (see July 2001). (Choksy and Choksy 5/6/2011)
History of Militant Links - Several militant camps have existed near Abbottabad since the 1990s (see May 22, 2011). Key al-Qaeda leaders lived in the town around 2004, and US intelligence was aware of this (see 2004 and After April 2004). An important Indonesian militant leader, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011 (see January 25, 2011). One day after bin Laden’s death, neighbors told the Wall Street Journal that there had been a recent influx of suspicious Arabs in the town. (Hussain and Mehsud 5/3/2011)
Completely Contradictory Accounts - On May 4, an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal that Abbottabad was “a place we always looked” because “we always figured that Osama bin Laden would not be in a cave.” (Entous, Barnes, and Rosenberg 5/4/2011) Yet, on May 5, an unnamed former US intelligence official involved in trying to find bin Laden told the Washington Post, “Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasn’t a stronghold.” The official added that when analysts considered likely locations for him, “Abbottabad wouldn’t be on that list.” (Woodward 5/6/2011)
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announces that he has ordered the Pakistani army to investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to hide in Pakistan for many years (see May 2, 2011). The investigation will be carried out by the army’s adjutant general, Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal. However, at the same time, Gillani says that it is “disingenuous” to blame any part of the Pakistani government for being “in cahoots” with al-Qaeda. “Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We didn’t invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan,” he says. He specifically defends the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which has been repeatedly accused of supporting some Islamist militants, saying: “The ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government. We are proud of its considerable contribution to the anti-terror campaign.” (Walsh 5/9/2011)
Former US Representative Michael D. Barnes (D-MD) claims that ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto firmly believed Osama bin Laden was being protected by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Barnes says that he was a good friend of Bhutto before her assassination in 2007, and he regularly socialized with her when she visited the US. He says that on more than one occasion, she told him that she was virtually certain bin Laden was not living in a remote mountain cave. Instead, she claimed: “He’s living comfortably somewhere in Pakistan. He’s being supported and protected by Pakistani intelligence. You can bet on it.” She also complained that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI were “in cahoots,” working together to attack US forces in Afghanistan. She felt her own life could be in danger (see December 27, 2007) because of her opposition to this covert Pakistani policy. (Barnes 5/13/2011)
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), al-Qaeda’s alleged top leader in Eastern Africa, is killed in a shootout at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Fazul's Luck Runs Out - Fazul and another militant are driving in of militant-controlled parts Mogadishu at night, and they mistakenly drive up to a checkpoint run by opposing Somali government soldiers. They attempt to drive through the checkpoint, but they are shot and killed by the soldiers before they can escape. The soldiers initially have no idea who he is. But after they search the car and discover $40,000 in cash, several laptop computers, cell phones, and other equipment, they realize he must be an important foreigner. US officials then confirm his identity with a DNA test. A Somali security official says: “This was lucky. It wasn’t like Fazul was killed during an operation to get him. He was essentially driving around Mogadishu and got lost.”
Fazul's importance in East Africa - The US had put a $5 million bounty on Fazul, primarily because he was considered one of the masterminds of the 1998 US embassy bombings. He was also said to have played a key role in a 2002 Kenya bombing that killed fifteen. In addition to his role as long-time regional leader for al-Qaeda, it is said he also was a top field commander for the Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group in control of large parts of Somalia. He was involved in bomb attacks, helped raise money in the Arab world for Somali militants, and helped bring many militants from other countries to Somalia. He was from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, “Fazul’s death is a significant blow to al-Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa.” (Gettleman 6/11/2011)
A cell phone could link Osama bin Laden to an Islamist militant group with ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports. The US military raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) also killed a courier who had links to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an Islamist militant group in Pakistan with links to the ISI. This suggests that the ISI may have been indirectly linked to bin Laden in his hideout.
Links to Harkat Could Lead to ISI - The cell phone of bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (also known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) was recovered by US forces during the raid. The New York Times reports that senior US officials say the cell phone contains contacts to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen. This group has long been considered an asset of the ISI. Tracing the phone calls, US intelligence analysts determined Harkat leaders in communication with Ahmed had called ISI officials. One Harkat leader met an ISI official in person. No “smoking gun” showing the ISI protected bin Laden has been found so far. However, the Times says that this raises “tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harkat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years.”
Harkat Has Strong Local Presence - Harkat is said to have a strong presence in the area around Abbottabad. The group has training camps and other facilities in Mansehra, only a few miles away. Bin Laden’s courier Ahmed appears to have stopped by a camp in Mansehra belonging to a Harkat splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Members of Harkat are able to move freely within Pakistan. Even now, the group’s top leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, about 30 miles away from Abbottabad. Analysts suspect this support network could explain why bin Laden chose to hide where he did. Harkat also has a presence in Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to live, so bin Laden could have used it to send money and messages back and forth to the tribal region.
Harkat 'Very, Very Close to the ISI' - Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says that Harkat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI. The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the US. (Gall, Shah, and Schmitt 6/23/2011)
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