A perfect terrorist

Watch A Perfect Terrorist on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

See also Sebastian Rotella’s companion article in ProPublica, The American behind India’s 9/11—and how U.S. botched chances to stop him.

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Saleem Shahzad’s murder, al Qaeda, and the ISI

Dexter Filkins writes:

I met Saleem Shahzad nine days before he disappeared, and he seemed to know that his time was running out. It was May 20th, and Islamabad was full of conspiracy theories about the Abbottabad raid: bin Laden was still alive; Kiyani and Pasha had secretly helped the Americans with the raid. Mostly, the public radiated anger and shame.

I had called Shahzad to discuss a pair of stories he’d written about bin Laden. In March, five weeks before the raid in Abbottabad, Shahzad claimed that bin Laden had suddenly come across the radar screens of several intelligence agencies: he was on the move. The story also reported that bin Laden had held a strategy meeting with an old friend, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan mujahideen whom the State Department considers a “global terrorist.” Then, just after the Abbottabad raid, Shahzad published a report claiming that the Pakistani leadership had known that the Americans were planning a raid of some sort, and had even helped. What the Pakistanis didn’t know, Shahzad wrote, was that the person the Americans were looking for was bin Laden. Both stories struck me as possibly dubious, but it was clear that Shahzad had numerous sources inside Pakistani intelligence and other intelligence agencies in the region.

Shahzad and I agreed to meet at a Gloria Jean’s coffee shop, not far from his home. For years, Islamabad was a sleepy town of bureaucrats; however dangerous the rest of Pakistan was, the capital was usually quiet. This was no longer true. In 2008, the Marriott Hotel, only a few miles from Gloria Jean’s, was destroyed by a suicide bomber, who killed or wounded more than three hundred people. Lately, the Kohsar Market—the collection of expensive boutiques where the Gloria Jean’s is situated—had been declared off limits for American Embassy personnel on weekends, out of fear that it would be attacked.

Shahzad and I took our coffees upstairs. He pointed to a table in an alcove by a window. “Welcome to my private office,” he said, with a smile. “No one will be able to hear us here.”

We talked for a few minutes about the Abbottabad raid and the stories he’d written. Shahzad was tall and self-possessed; he had thick black hair and a round face offset by a trim beard. He was warm and expressive, the sort of reporter whom people talked to because he seemed genuinely nice. No wonder he got all those scoops, I thought. He was wearing Western clothes and spoke flawless English. He told me that he knew some of my colleagues, and offered to help me out in any way that he could.

And then Shahzad changed the subject. What he really wanted to talk about was his own safety. “Look, I’m in danger,” he said. “I’ve got to get out of Pakistan.” He added that he had a wife and three kids, and they weren’t safe, either. He’d been to London recently, and someone there had promised to help him move to England.

The trouble, he said, had begun on March 25th, the day that he published the story about bin Laden’s being on the move. The next morning, he got a phone call from an officer at the I.S.I., summoning him to the agency’s headquarters, in Aabpara, a neighborhood in eastern Islamabad. When Shahzad showed up, he was met by three I.S.I. officers. The lead man, he said, was a naval officer, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, who serves as the head of the I.S.I.’s media division.

“They were very polite,” Shahzad told me. He glanced over his shoulder. “They don’t shout, they don’t threaten you. This is the way they operate. But they were very angry with me.” The I.S.I. officers asked him to write a second story, retracting the first. He refused.

And then Admiral Nazir made a remark so bizarre that Shahzad said he had thought about it every day since.

“We want the world to believe that Osama is dead,” Nazir said.

Bin Laden was still alive, his whereabouts presumably unknown, when that conversation occurred. I pressed Shahzad. What did they mean by that?

He shrugged and glanced over his shoulder again. They were obviously trying to protect bin Laden, he said.

“Do you think the I.S.I. was hiding bin Laden?” I asked him.

Shahzad shrugged again and said yes. But he hadn’t been able to prove it. (The I.S.I. calls this claim an “unsubstantiated accusation of a very serious nature.”)

Shahzad said that he’d left I.S.I. headquarters that day thinking that he needed to be careful. Now, two months later, there was another reason to worry: a book that he’d written, “Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” was being released in three days, in both Pakistan and the West. The book, written in English, explored even more deeply the taboo subject of the I.S.I.’s relationship with Islamist militants.

“They’re going to be really mad,” Shahzad said.

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US-Pakistan relations worsen with arrest of two alleged spies

The Guardian reports:

Relations between Washington and Islamabad deteriorated further when the US justice department charged two men alleged to have been in the pay of the Pakistan intelligence service.

One was involved with the Kashmiri American Council, through which it is alleged that Pakistan channelled millions of dollars to influence members of the US Congress. The US said there are also Kashmiri centres in London and Brussels that the FBI alleged are run by elements of the Pakistani government. FBI special agent Sarah Webb Linden, in an affidavit unsealed on Tuesday, named the one in London as the Justice Foundation/Kashmir Centre run by Nazir Ahmad Shawl.

The FBI arrested the executive director of the Kashmiri American Council, Ghulam-Nabi Fai, aged 62, at his home in Fairfax, Virginia, later. The other, Zaheer Ahmad, 63, is believed to be in Pakistan. Both are US citizens and face a prison sentence of five years if convicted.

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Black ops and blood money

Matthew Teague writes:

Hearing the American’s name whispered in his ear, the chief of police in Lahore, Pakistan, turns from his desk and nods toward a nondescript side door in his office. His desk sits surrounded by concentric rings of chairs, occupied by visitors hoping for a moment of Chief Aslam Tareen’s time. Lahore is a city of 10 million people, and justice demands constant attention. But before he’ll discuss the American — perhaps the most notorious American in Pakistan’s history — Tareen needs privacy. He leaves his desk and slips through the side door into a smaller, more secluded office. A bed is in the corner, along with a television, and an attendant brings a pair of slippers and sets them before the chief’s leather recliner. In Pakistan the truth is like a woman; it stays veiled in public, only fully revealing itself behind closed doors. And this particular subject is a treacherous one.

“Raymond Davis,” Tareen says, settling into his chair. “Spy.”

Davis operated in the darkest shadows of the war against terrorism. He worked for the CIA as an independent contractor, gathering information on the jihadist group behind some of the most cruel and spectacular attacks in recent years. The intelligence operation collapsed violently in January when two Pakistani men accosted Davis on a crowded street and he shot them both dead with a skill rarely seen outside spy novels. A botched attempt to rescue him in the -aftermath left a third man dead and Davis under arrest.

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David Headley saves his own life in a Chicago courtroom

Liz Mermin writes:

The United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois is an enormous glass cube of a building that occupies an entire block in downtown Chicago. When I arrive there on a cold and wet afternoon in the middle of May, the lobby is scattered with bomb-sniffing dogs and dozens of US Marshals. A sign outside the building noting “heightened security levels” suggests this is no ordinary state of affairs, even though America seems these days to be in a perpetual state of heightened security. But in this case a little paranoia could be forgiven: the trial getting underway is one of the most significant terrorism cases to have taken place in the US.

The defendant, a 50-year-old Pakistani-Canadian businessman and Chicago resident named Tahawwur Hussein Rana, is accused of the uniquely American crime of “providing material support to terrorism” in three instances: to the 26 November 2008 attack on Mumbai; to a plot against Jyllands-Posten, the Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in 2005; and to the Pakistani terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). He is being tried in America, rather than India or Denmark, in part because of the six Americans killed in the Mumbai attacks.

But the trial—which promises to linger in great detail on the workings of LeT and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as well as the involvement of al Qaeda in the Danish plot—doesn’t seem to be attracting much local attention. Judging from the headlines, Chicagoans are far more interested in the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, the taping of Oprah Winfrey’s final talk show, and the predictions of an octogenarian Christian evangelical that the world will end on 21 May.

Even among the few reporters who have been closely following the case, no one really cares much about Rana. The star attraction will be David Coleman Headley—formerly Daood Gilani—who is expected to take the stand as a key witness against Rana, his oldest and best friend. A handful of Headley-obsessed journalists are converging on the courthouse for a chance to hear the man whose bizarre life they have been investigating for more than a year.

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Pakistan hits back at US commander over journalist’s murder claim

The Guardian reports:

Pakistan has lashed out at America’s top-ranking military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, on Friday, saying that its relations with the US have been further damaged by his remarks blaming the Islamabad government for the killing, torture and murder of a Pakistani journalist.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff shocked Islamabad by saying publicly what US officials had confirmed only in private: that the Pakistani government had “sanctioned” the killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad, the investigative reporter for Asia Times Online whose mutilated body was found on 30 May in a canal 40 miles from the capital. He had been writing about jihadist infiltration of the Pakistani military.

Pakistan’s information minister, Firdous Ashiq Awan, told a news conference Mullen had made an “extremely irresponsible and unfortunate statement”.

“This statement will create problems and difficulties for the bilateral relations between Pakistan and America. It will definitely deal a blow to our common efforts with regard to the war on terror,” she said, without going into details.

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US officials say ISI murdered Pakistani journalist

The New York Times reports:

Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to American officials.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were “barbaric and unacceptable,” one of the officials said. They would not disclose further details about the intelligence.

But the disclosure of the information in itself could further aggravate the badly fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which worsened significantly with the American commando raid two months ago that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan safehouse and deeply embarrassed the Pakistani government, military and intelligence hierarchy. Obama administration officials will deliberate in the coming days how to present the information about Mr. Shahzad to the Pakistani government, an administration official said.

The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials. “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,” said one.

A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.

“Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

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Pakistani military still cultivates militant groups, a former fighter says

The New York Times reports:

The Pakistani military continues to nurture a broad range of militant groups as part of a three-decade strategy of using proxies against its neighbors and American forces in Afghanistan, but now some of the fighters it trained are questioning that strategy, a prominent former militant commander says.

The former commander said that he was supported by the Pakistani military for 15 years as a fighter, leader and trainer of insurgents until he quit a few years ago. Well known in militant circles but accustomed to a covert existence, he gave an interview to The New York Times on the condition that his name, location and other personal details not be revealed.

Militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen and Hizbul Mujahedeen, are run by religious leaders, with the Pakistani military providing training, strategic planning and protection. That system was still functioning, he said.

The former commander’s account belies years of assurances by Pakistan to American officials since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that it has ceased supporting militant groups in its territory. The United States has given Pakistan more than $20 billion in aid over the past decade for its help with counterterrorism operations. Still, the former commander said, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has not abandoned its policy of supporting the militant groups as tools in Pakistan’s dispute with India over the border territory of Kashmir and in Afghanistan to drive out American and NATO forces.

“There are two bodies running these affairs: mullahs and retired generals,” he said. He named a number of former military officials involved in the program, including former chiefs of the intelligence service and other former generals. “These people have a very big role still,” he said.

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Pakistan’s chief of army fights to keep his job

The New York Times reports:

Pakistan’s army chief, the most powerful man in the country, is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Pakistani officials and people who have met the chief in recent weeks.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has led the army since 2007, faces such intense discontent over what is seen as his cozy relationship with the United States that a colonels’ coup, while unlikely, was not out of the question, said a well-informed Pakistani who has seen the general in recent weeks, as well as an American military official involved with Pakistan for many years.

The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break, Pakistanis who follow the army closely said.

Washington, with its own hard line against Pakistan, had pushed General Kayani into a defensive crouch, along with his troops, and if the general was pushed out, the United States would face a more uncompromising anti-American army chief, the Pakistani said.

To repair the reputation of the army, and to ensure his own survival, General Kayani made an extraordinary tour of more than a dozen garrisons, mess halls and other institutions in the six weeks since the May 2 raid that killed Bin Laden. His goal was to rally support among his rank-and-file troops, who are almost uniformly anti-American, according to participants and people briefed on the sessions.

During a long session in late May at the National Defense University, the premier academy in Islamabad, the capital, one officer got up after General Kayani’s address and challenged his policy of cooperation with the United States. The officer asked, “If they don’t trust us, how can we trust them?” according to Shaukaut Qadri, a retired army brigadier who was briefed on the session. General Kayani essentially responded, “We can’t,” Mr. Qadri said.

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Pakistan arrests CIA informants in Bin Laden raid

The New York Times reports:

Pakistan’s top military spy agency has arrested some of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency in the months leading up to the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, according to American officials.

Pakistan’s detention of five C.I.A. informants, including a Pakistani Army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the weeks before the raid, is the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is seeking Pakistan’s support in brokering an endgame in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

At a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael J. Morell, the deputy C.I.A. director, to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Three,” Mr. Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange.

The fate of the C.I.A. informants arrested in Pakistan is unclear, but American officials said that the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, raised the issue when he travelled to Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.

Some in Washington see the arrests as illustrative of the disconnect between Pakistani and American priorities at a time when they are supposed to be allies in the fight against Al Qaeda — instead of hunting down the support network that allowed Bin Laden to live comfortably for years, the Pakistani authorities are arresting those who assisted in the raid that killed the world’s most wanted man.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports:

The terrorist described as the linchpin in the hunt for Osama bin Laden has rejoined al-Qaida after the Bush administration released him from a secret CIA secret prison under pressure from Pakistan, according to former and current U.S. intelligence officials.

Shortly after the CIA decided to close the secret prisons, the U.S. intelligence agency returned al-Qaida operative Hassan Ghul in 2006 to his native Pakistan, which had been demanding his release since his capture about two years earlier.

Pakistan held Ghul for at least a year before he was released, eventually making his way back to al-Qaida to help with operations against the U.S., the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details about Ghul’s case remain classified.

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Prominent journalist Saleem Shahzad murdered after exposing ties between Pakistan’s navy and al Qaeda

Declan Walsh reports:

A prominent Pakistani journalist who investigated links between the military and al-Qaida has been found dead, triggering angry accusations against the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan correspondent for a news service based in Hong Kong, disappeared on his way to a television interview in Islamabad on Sunday evening. On Tuesday, police said they found his body on a canal bank in Mandi Bahauddin, 80 miles south-east of the capital.

Shahzad’s abandoned car was found 25 miles away. Television images of his body showed heavy bruising to his face. Media reports said he had a serious trauma wound to the stomach.

Human Rights Watch had already raised the alarm over the disappearance of the 40-year-old father of three, citing a “reliable interlocutor” who said he had been abducted by ISI.

“This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in south Asia, Ali Dayan Hasan. He called for a “transparent investigation and court proceedings”.

Other journalists reacted angrily, directly accusing ISI of responsibility on television and social media. “Any journalist here who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies?” tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author.

In his last published report, Shahzad wrote:

Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.

Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants.

At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.

An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.

Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda’s demands over the detained suspects.

The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan’s surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.

The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.

Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country’s largest city and key port.

“Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces,” a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan,” the official said.

“Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities.”

The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people – mostly from the lower cadre – were arrested in a series of operations.

“That was the beginning of huge trouble,” the official said. [Continue reading...]

Pepe Escobar, a fellow correspondent for Asia Times, describes Shahzad as “a brother.”

In the aftermath of 9/11 we worked in tandem; he was in Karachi, I was in Islamabad/Peshawar. After the US ”victory” in Afghanistan I went to visit him at home. He plunged me into Karachi’s wild side – in this and other visits. During a night walk on the beach he confessed his dream; he wanted to be Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times, which he regarded as the K2 of journalism. He got it.

And then, years before ”AfPak” was invented, he found his perfect beat – the intersection between the ISI, the myriad Taliban factions on both sides of AfPak, and all sorts of jihadi eruptions. That was his sterling beat; and no one could bring more hardcore news from the heart of hardcore than Saleem.

I had met some of his sources in Islamabad and Karachi – but over the years he kept excavating deeper and deeper into the shadows. Sometimes we seriously debated over e-mails – I feared some dodgy/devious ISI strands were playing him while he always vouched for his sources.

Cornered by the law of the jungle, no wonder most of my Pakistani friends, during the 2000s, became exiles in the United States or Canada. Saleem stayed – threats and all, the only concession relocating from Karachi to Islamabad.

Now they finally got him. Not an al-Qaeda or jihadi connection. Not a tribal or Taliban connection, be it Mullah Omar or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. It had to be the ISI – as he knew, and told us, all along.

Shahzad had just published a book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11.

In an interview on the Real News Network recorded a few days before his murder, Shahzad described the transformation of al Qaeda over the last decade and that while the group itself has shrunk, its ideology has spread horizontally by incorporation inside and beyond the new Taliban.

First you have to understand this fact, that there are 17 Arab-Afghan groups which are operating inside Pakistani tribal areas and in Afghanistan, and most of these groups and most of the groups are aligned with al Qaeda but they are not part of al Qaeda — number one. And the strength of those 17 Arab-Afghan groups is over 1,000 approximately.

Second, those who are the members of al Qaeda are hardly 100, not more than 100.

The third thing is — and this is the most important thing — and that is the phenomenon of new Taliban — the new generation of those Afghan fighters, of the Pakistani fighters, or the fighters coming from the Pakistani tribal areas who previously pledged their allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban, but now they — in the last ten years — they completely absorbed al Qaeda’s ideology inside-out, and they are more loyal to al Qaeda than to Mullah Omar or to the al Qaeda leaders, or to their jihadi commanders.

So this is the new group, this is al Qaeda horizontally, not only in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas, but all across the globe, like in Yemen, in Somalia and other parts, even in Europe, even in America. So this is the new generation on which al Qaeda is heavily banking on. And not only those, but it also includes the new converts, white Caucasians which are living in North Waziristan and in South Waziristan. And many of them were sent back to their countries of origin in Europe, Canada and America, and different countries. So, this was a completely new phenomenon. Al Qaeda grew horizontally in different directions.

Watch Shahzad’s last interview (in two parts) with the Real News Network:

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