In late 2006, Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, who has been indicted for his alleged involvement in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Africa, reached out to an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan with a request. He needed advice from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s senior leadership. Bin Laden responded to his request and said that he wanted al Qaeda’s East Africa cell to focus on operations outside Somalia.
In 2007, then-President Pervez Musharraf was telling Senator John McCain that while he had no proof, he believed Osama bin Laden was in Bajaur Agency. The same year, when then-Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told Musharraf that they believed Bin Laden was in Mansehra, Musharraf reportedly smashed his fist on the table and said: “Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?” Saleh recounted the story to The Guardian last week.
In 2002, Musharraf told CNN that Bin Laden was probably dead.
For the past decade, Pakistani civilian and military officials have denied knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. While many believed he was dead, other officials said he was either sick with failing kidneys, on the run or based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As evidenced last week, he was living in Abbottabad, reportedly providing operational guidance to al Qaeda.
A US intelligence official said last week that a review of the material seized from Bin Laden’s house “clearly shows that Bin Laden remained an active leader in al Qaeda, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group”. However, given how al Qaeda branches elsewhere and local militant groups have overshadowed Bin Laden’s network, it is difficult to assess his importance in the past few years.
Fazul Abdullah Mohammad’s facilitator in Pakistan was a Somali man named Abdullahi Sudi Arale, who reportedly served as a courier between al Qaeda’s East Africa cell and its operatives in Pakistan. He was captured in 2007, held at Guantanamo and transferred to Somalia in 2009. It is unclear as to why he was released since a record of his combatant status review tribunal hearing is not available.
Mohammad first travelled to Pakistan from the Comoros Islands at the age of 15 to study at a madrassa. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a $5 million award for information leading to Mohammad’s arrest or conviction.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2011.
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