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Profile: Osama bin Laden
a.k.a. Osama Muhammad Al-Wahad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, OBL, UBL, The Sheikh, Abu Abdullah, Sheikh, Osama bin Ladin, Mujahid Shaykh, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Emir, Director
Osama bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
Eric Bolling, the host of the Fox Business Channel talk show Follow The Money, reads a list of people his viewers say they want waterboarded. The list includes President Obama. Bolling is doing a segment on his viewers’ reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and insists, despite claims from Obama administration members and informed outsiders, that bin Laden was located “through waterboarding, simple as that” (see Autumn 2003, August 6, 2007, December 2-4, 2008, December 11, 2008, and March 29, 2009). (Later in the segment, some of his guests dispute that claim.) Bolling says he asked viewers who they wanted to see waterboarded. The respondents, through Facebook, named, among others: “Senate Dems… and then Obama… then the kooks on [the ABC morning talk show] ‘The View,’ starting with Joy” Behar; “Alan Colmes… [t]he secrets of the left-wing cabal will come pouring out of that boy”; “[m]y ex-wife!”; progressive talk show hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow; and the far-right, virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. Bolling concludes the segment with some jocularity with his guests, and jokingly offers to be waterboarded himself. [Media Matters, 5/5/2011]
Entity Tags: Keith Olbermann, Barack Obama, Alan Colmes, Eric Bolling, Obama administration, Fox Business Channel, Westboro Baptist Church, Rachel Maddow, Osama bin Laden, Joy Behar
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” [ABC News, 5/5/2011]
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. [Associated Press, 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). [Radio Free Europe, 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. [Wall Street Journal, 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.” [Wall Street Journal, 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.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells House members during a secret briefing that the Pakistani government was “either involved or incompetent,” regarding the hiding of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad for about five years (see May 2, 2011). This is according to two unnamed sources who attend the briefing. [CNN, 5/9/2011]
The US government selectively releases videos of Osama bin Laden found in the raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). ABC News reports, “The US government is running a full-court press to prevent Osama bin Laden from becoming a hallowed martyr by using what are essentially out-takes of videos made by bin Laden to paint him instead as a vain, pathetic old man, experts said today.” Excerpts from five videos are made public. The one that attracts the most attention shows bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hidehout, wrapped in a blanket and watching videos of himself on television. He is seen using a remote control to frequently change channels. Author Lawrence Wright comments, “[This is] just a guy who wants to be seen, who wants to be known. [It’s] very pathetic in a way.” [ABC News, 5/9/2011]
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.” [Guardian, 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. [Washington Post, 5/13/2011]
The Associated Press reports that three active Islamist militant training camps have existed for a long time just 35 miles from Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed earlier in the month (see May 2, 2011). The camps are in the Ughi area of the Mansehra district, a more mountainous and remote region than Abbottabad. The Associated Press claims to have spoken to many people, even some of the militants in the camps, and has learned the three camps together house hundreds of militants.
Camps Operate with Government Knowledge - The Pakistani military claims to be unaware of any such camps, but villagers near the camp say this is impossible. They point out there even is a military checkpoint on the road to one of the camps. There have been militant camps in the area since the 1990s. One camp attendee says that attendees can take part in a four-week course of basic military skills, or a three-month course on guerrilla warfare. Promising graduates are then sent to the Pakistani part of Kashmir for more training. The camps are very close to Kashmir, a region disputed between Pakistan and India, and most of the camp attendees presumably aim to fight India in Kashmir with Pakistani government approval. But there are inevitably some trained in the camps who get involved with other militant activities and groups instead. [Associated Press, 5/22/2011]
Militant Groups and Bombers Linked to Camps - Radio Free Europe has also claimed that militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have long been active in the Abbottabad area, “seemingly tolerated by the Pakistani military and intelligence services,” and the Taliban have a strong presence in the area as well. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011] Some of the suicide bombers in the London 7/7 bombings trained in the Mansehra area (see July 2001), and five British Pakistanis found guilty of a 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004) trained there too. [London Times, 5/8/2011]
Operational Link between Bin Laden and Nearby Camps? - The militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen has training camps in the Mansehra area as well, and Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, bin Laden’s trusted courier who lived with him in Abbottabad, had numerous Harkat phone numbers in his cell phone that was confiscated in the US raid that killed bin Laden (see June 23, 2011). He also visited a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in the Mansehra area at some point. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
The London Times reports that the US Navy SEALS who raided Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound had a pocket guide to the building’s occupants so specific that it mentioned the types of clothes bin Laden usually wore. One copy of the guide was left behind in the raid that killed bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and the Times was able to obtain it. The guide lists the names of ages of the people living inside the compound, as well as where they live in the compound and when some of them arrived. Photographs of some people are included. The guide is obviously based on recent information. For instance, it mentions twins born this year to bin Laden’s youngest wife. It also states that bin Laden: “Always wears light-colored shawl kameez with a dark vest. Occasionally wears light-colored prayer cap.” The Times comments that the guide raises new questions about the raid. Some experts suggest that it indicates US intelligence had a mole inside the compound, while other experts suggest it simply shows that the US’s data collection in the months before the raid was extremely thorough, and perhaps used technology “far more sophisticated than hitherto realized.” The Times also notes that after the raid, President Obama “said he had been ‘only 45 per cent to 55 per cent sure that bin Laden was even in the compound.’ [But the guide] indicates US intelligence was certain of his presence.” [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shortly after the raid, the Washington Post published a story claiming that US intelligence monitored bin Laden while he took frequent walks in the courtyard of the compound. This guide suggests that story was accurate (see Shortly After August 2010-May 2, 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. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
The New York Times reports that two unnamed former leaders of Pakistani militant groups are convinced the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped hide Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). One leader spent about 10 years with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group linked to the courier who lived with bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout. The other leader was a secret informant for the Pakistani military while working for Pakistani militant groups for about 15 years until a few years ago. The newspaper reports that the two leaders “offered no proof of their belief that bin Laden was under Pakistani military protection. But their views were informed by their years of work with the ISI and their knowledge of how the spy agency routinely handled militant leaders it considered assets—placing them under protective custody in cities, often close to military installations. The treatment amounts to a kind of house arrest, to ensure both the security of the asset and his low profile to avoid embarrassment to his protectors.” [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Mohammed Haydar Zammar in 2018. [Source: Alice Martins / Washington Post]Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national who was captured by Kurdish fighters in Syria earlier this year, denies any involvement in the 9/11 attacks or ever having foreknowledge of them, despite knowing several of the alleged hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/23/2018; Washington Post, 11/30/2018] Zammar was arrested in December 2001 while visiting Morocco and then sent to Syria (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001). In 2007, after being held in Syria for several years, a Syrian court sentenced him to 12 years in prison for membership in the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group (see February 11, 2007). He was released, however, in 2013 as part of a prisoner exchange. He then joined the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was captured earlier this year by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, during its ongoing operations against ISIS (see (March 2018)). [BBC, 4/19/2018; Daily Telegraph, 4/20/2018; Washington Post, 11/30/2018] He is now being held in a jail run by the Kurdish intelligence service in northeastern Syria. This month, he is interviewed by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine and then the Washington Post. These interviews are the first time he has talked publicly since 2001. In them, he talks in detail about his experiences, including his association with several of the 9/11 hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/23/2018; Washington Post, 11/30/2018]
Zammar Admits Bringing Together Three Hijackers - In the 1990s, Zammar held regular gatherings with small groups of young Muslim men at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, which was regularly attended by future 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah (see Early 1996). [Associated Press, 8/9/2010; Washington Post, 11/30/2018] He met these three men and other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell at the time. He now admits being responsible for bringing Atta, Alshehhi, and Jarrah together. He also tells Der Spiegel that, after 9/11, he told German police that he had “read the Koran together with Atta and the others [in the Hamburg cell], and that we had eaten and gone to the mosque together.” He says the members of the Hamburg cell were “my best friends” and describes Atta as a “good guy” who had “high moral standards.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/23/2018; Washington Post, 11/30/2018]
Zammar Persuaded the Hijackers to Visit Afghanistan - In 1998, Zammar encouraged the members of the Hamburg cell to participate in jihad and persuaded them to go to Afghanistan for military training. But after Atta, Alshehhi, and Jarrah returned from there, he had little further contact with them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 164, 167; Washington Post, 11/30/2018] “I had hardly any contact with the three of them in the two years prior” to 9/11, he tells Der Spiegel.
Zammar Denies Having Foreknowledge of 9/11 - Despite knowing three of the alleged perpetrators, Zammar denies any involvement in the 9/11 attacks. As evidence, he points out that he chose to return to Germany from a visit to Turkey shortly after the attacks occurred. If he had been involved in the attacks, he says: “I wouldn’t have come back to Germany from Turkey. I would have fled to Afghanistan or somewhere else.” He also says he had no foreknowledge of 9/11. “God knows, and in all honesty, I did not know anything about the 9/11 strike,” he tells the Washington Post. The members of the Hamburg cell “did not tell me anything,” he adds. “They probably kept me in the dark so as not to drag me into anything,” he comments. He says he was “as surprised as anyone when the attacks occurred” and initially thought they were carried out by the Japanese as revenge for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. When the names and photos of his three friends from Hamburg were released, he “couldn’t believe it,” he says, because he “didn’t think they were capable of that.”
Zammar Calls Bin Laden a 'Good Person' - As well as knowing three of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, Zammar met Osama bin Laden during one of his regular visits to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He now describes bin Laden as “a very likeable, good person,” but stresses that he never pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, even though this has been claimed. American investigators never reached a firm conclusion about Zammar’s potential involvement in the 9/11 plot and suspected that he may have been too talkative to be trusted with knowledge of it, according to Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent. German investigators were similarly “unable to prove any involvement or complicity on his part,” according to Der Spiegel. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/23/2018; Washington Post, 11/30/2018]
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