May 15, 2011
On the evening of May 1st, US president Barack Obama publically announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a “firefight” as a result of a successful US military operation in Pakistan. Several discrepancies in the public story surrounding his death have since been pounced on by internet conspiracy theorists, some claiming that the US raid was fake as well as arguing that Bin Laden apparently died years ago. Such theories are not possible to prove and really serve as petty distractions from more important issues concerning Al Qaeda. One can clearly argue, however, that Bin Laden was never indicted for the crime of 9/11 by US authorities, even though he was always regarded as a suspect. The media has lately referred to him as the “mastermind” of the attacks, when in actuality it is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who has been officially named the mastermind, despite controversies regarding the reliability of his testimony and the nature of his role. More importantly, however, the role of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (the ISI) may well be even more significant than those of Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
US counter-terrorism official John Brennan recently told the media that Bin Laden had apparently been living in his prominent Abbottabad home for five to six years and that “he was in contact with some senior al Qaeda officials”. US Senator Carl Levin said that the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies have serious questions to answer about how Bin Laden managed to live so close to the central location of the Pakistani army for apparently so long. The Pakistani authorities have hit back, claiming that they warned the US about the Bin Laden compound two years ago. This has created considerable tensions between the US and Pakistan – tensions which really hide a darker and more troubling history that connects certain former employees of the Pakistani ISI with members of Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. These former employees have not been officially regarded as 9/11 suspects by the US authorities.
On the 22nd of July 2004, United Press International reported that “On the eve of the publication of its report, the 9/11 Commission was given a stunning document from Pakistan, claiming that Pakistani intelligence officers knew in advance of the 9/11 attacks”. The report also alleged that the Pakistani ISI provided direct financial support to the 9/11 hijackers and was thus fully involved in the plot. Worryingly, the final report of the 9/11 Commission failed to mention this allegation, and barely refers to the ISI agency at all. Since 9/11, Pakistan has become an ally in the “war on terror”, an ongoing war that has also been continued by President Obama. Pakistan has received a lot of financial aid in the years since 9/11, amounting to approximately $20 billion dollars . This aid comes despite reports that elements of the Pakistani government, including the shadowy ISI, have been supporting and aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan. The counter-productive nature of this policy seems clear – yet it continues, despite the protestations of certain US officials. The issue of financing the Taliban may be bad enough; worse than this, however, are compelling allegations that point to the ISI directly providing money to the September 11th hijackers even as the CIA continued close ties with the agency.
In September 2006, former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf stated that the US official Richard Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” during a conversation with Pakistan’s intelligence director. The alleged threat was made in the days following the 9/11 attacks and were apparently made as a consequence of Pakistan’s not choosing to participate in the “war on terror”. Ties to the Taliban were apparently severed – albeit only temporarily- by the Pakistani regime as a response to these alleged US threats, and this was met with approval by the Bush regime, who welcomed them as their new partner.
But serious questions remain about the involvement of the Pakistani authorities in the support and financing of Al Qaeda. The Family Steering Committee (FSC) of the 9/11 Commission was a group of 9/11 family members who spear-headed the campaign for the creation of the Commission to investigate the attacks, and who assisted the commission staffers with their work as well as monitoring them. On their website there remains a list of questions which the final report of the Commission failed to address or answer. In the case of the Pakistani ISI, some of the questions refer to the former Director of the agency, General Mahmood Ahmed. According to several media reports, the General was meeting with US officials in Washington between the 4th and 13th of September 2001. The FSC asked the 9/11 Commission to inquire about the details of the meeting with General Ahmed conducted by the House and Senate Intelligence Committee chairmen on September 11th. More importantly, they also asked the Commission if they could find out why the General ordered Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to wire $100,000 to the 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. This may seem like a serious allegation, even speculative – but it is no conspiracy theory. In June 2004, the New York Times reported that Lorie Van Auken, a member of the Family Steering Committee, “was irate” that the final report of the 9/11 Commission did not even mention General Mahmoud Ahmed’s alleged role in the $100,000 wire transfer to Mohammed Atta. Disturbingly, in 2006 the Pakistani newspaper The Friday Times published a report claiming that lobbyists from Pakistan gave thousands of dollars to members of the 9/11 Commission in order to try and get them to omit any information from the final report that might be damaging to the Pakistani authorities. This could perhaps explain why the 9/11 report does not address allegations against former members of the Pakistani ISI, especially that of General Mahmoud Ahmed and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.
The story of Saeed Sheikh is also highly compelling. He is currently being held in prison in Pakistan for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl. He was originally sentenced to death for this crime back in July 2002, but he has since been kept alive and was even accused of plotting the death of General Musharraf from his jail cell in 2008. He has been linked not only to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban but also to the Pakistani ISI. In 2002, according to the online archive History Commons, the New York Times, India Today, the National Post and The Guardian newspapers all reported that Saeed Sheikh was working for the ISI and was well known to senior officers there. Several media reports have also detailed Saeed Sheikh’s close ties to Al-Qaeda, particularly from late 1999 to 2001. For example, Vanity Fair reported in August 2002 that Osama Bin Laden referred to Saeed Sheikh as “my special son”. On the 30th of September 2001, the Daily Telegraph reported that Sheikh had even apparently trained some of the 9/11 hijackers. In his 2003 book Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, author Rohan Gunaratna wrote about how Sheikh was able to establish an Al-Qaeda network in Dubai. Interestingly, several 9/11 hijackers arrived in Dubai between the 11th of April and the 28th of June 2001 – according to US officials – and purchased several travelers’ checks. It was from this location in August 2001that Saeed Sheikh was alleged to have sent Mohammed Atta $100,000, which ended up in two of Atta’s accounts in Florida. If Saeed Sheikh had an Al-Qaeda base in Dubai at the time, it is also possible that he could have been in contact with the hijackers when they passed through. Regarding the money transfers to Mohammed Atta, an unnamed senior US official told CNN in October 2001 that “U.S. investigators now believe Sheik Syed, using the alias Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad, sent more than $100,000 from Pakistan to Mohammed Atta”. In January 2002, the Press Trust Of India reported that the Indian authorities had informed the FBI that ransom money obtained by the Dubai mobster Aftab Ansari (in order to release a captured Calcutta businessman) was used to finance Mohammed Atta. Indian authorities named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh as the paymaster who provided Atta with $100,000 via wire transfer. A wide range of world news media reported on the link between Atta and Omar Saeed Sheikh. Unfortunately, the story of the wire transfer has been largely buried and obfuscated by the Western media since the end of 2001.
On October 7th 2001, General Mahmoud Ahmed was demoted from his position at the head of the Pakistani ISI. The official reason was because he was apparently too close to the Taliban. However, the official reason is not credible especially given the fact that the remaining ISI officials continued to maintain their ties with the Taliban. On June 20th 2004, a member of the 9/11 Commission told the Los Angeles Times that before 9/11, Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Yet, General Mahmoud Ahmed and other members of the Pakistani authorities were apparently only threatened by the US authorities if they refused to become partners in the “war on terror”. Was General Ahmed sacked because of his decision to order Saeed Sheikh to wire money to Mohammed Atta? If so, it is a great injustice to have the General remain free in Pakistan with no charges on his head. Saeed Sheikh remains in a Pakistani jail, but like the General he too has not been formally charged with suspicion of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps the US authorities should seek to question these two men, rather than just kill them and ask questions later, as they did with Bin Laden. More importantly, there should be hard questions directed at the US authorities and the 9/11 Commission with regard to the way they have dealt with the ISI before and after 9/11. For the US authorities to simply threaten or scapegoat Pakistan now would be a grossly irresponsible act, since certain agencies of both governments have a lot of explaining to do.