Showing posts with label Kabul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kabul. Show all posts

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The CIA and "Al-Qaeda" in Afghanistan - The 1990s

Abu Hamza al-Masri, 

who will later become a leading Islamic radical in Britain, travels to Afghanistan and, as he is a qualified civil engineer, helps with reconstruction efforts there after the Soviet withdrawal. He later receives paramilitary training at Darunta camp and loses his hands and the sight in one eye while practicing making explosives there. He is taken to Pakistan for emergency treatment, but refuses to hand over a set of passports he has to that country’s ISI intelligence agency, and flees to Britain with his family due to fears of a reprisal."
[O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 21-29]

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

In a Hollywood movie Hekmatyar would be the evil foil to the heroic Abdul Shah Masud. He would be an angry Islamic fundamentalist dressed in black, throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women and assassinating local tribal leaders that might rival his power. He would be the pawn of foreign secret service paymasters like the ISI, CIA, and Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia. He would unfeelingly sacrifice peasants for his cause, rocket the helpless civilians mixed in with his enemies, and his ruthless ambition would prevent the creation of a new peace. Unfortunately, in real life Hekmatyar was all these things.

Hekmatyar was one of the early Islamic rebels that came out of the University of Kabul. In the beginning Hekmatyar and Masud worked together. During the Soviet occupation Hekmatyar ran one of the two largest mujahideen organizations out of Peshawar in Pakistan. There he became the favorite of the Pakistani secret service, the ISI. Billions of dollars in US aid flowed through the ISI to Hekmatyar. Nervous CIA agents wondered whether Hekmatyar hated the United States as much as the Soviets, but the ISI assured them he was ok. United States money and weapons flowed to our enemy for over a decade.

When Masud finally defeated Najibullah in 1992, all the mujahideen factions converged on Kabul. Masud outwitted Hekmatyar and slipped into the city before him. A round robin of side-swapping, backstabbing, and massacre among Hekmatyar, Masud, Dostum, and Mazari followed. The citizens and buildings of Kabul were the big losers. The problem was that Masud could not be president as he was a Tajik, not a Pashtun. Afghan kings had been Pashtun for hundreds of years. Hekmatyar was the most powerful Pashtun, and had he not been such an evil sod, Masud might have accepted some kind of deal. In the end neither prevailed. The ISI switched support from the stalemated Hekmatyar and backed Mullah Omar, the new leader of the Taliban. Without ISI support, Hekmatyar’s men deserted wholesale to Mullah Omar, and he was a contender no longer.

Today Hekmatyar is finally the enemy of the United States that he should have been all along. He either took refuge in Iran, or sneaks around the tribal zone, periodically calling for holy war against the Americans. Sometimes his name is used by others, mostly as someone to blame for car bombs and other such mischief.

Osama bin Laden and Hassan al-Turabi in Sudan in the early 1990s. [Source: PBS]Hassan al-Turabi comes to power in Sudan in 1989, and his beliefs are ideologically compatible with bin Laden’s. With the Afghan war ending and the Afghans beginning to fight amongst themselves, al-Turabi sends a delegation and a letter to bin Laden, inviting him to collaborate and move to Sudan. Bin Laden agrees to the offer, but moves slowly. He sends advance teams to buy businesses and houses. He also visits Sudan himself to establish a relationship with al-Turabi. Gradually, about 1,000 bin Laden supporters move to Sudan. But bin Laden also keeps offices and guest houses in Pakistan, as well as training camps in Afghanistan, including the Darunta, Jihad Wal, Khaldan, Sadeek, Al Farooq, and Khalid ibn Walid camps. US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed plays an important role in the move (see Summer 1991). [GUNARATNA, 2003, PP. 39-41]

Abu Hamza al-Masri, who will later become a leading Islamic radical in Britain, travels to Afghanistan and, as he is a qualified civil engineer, helps with reconstruction efforts there after the Soviet withdrawal. He later receives paramilitary training at Darunta camp and loses his hands and the sight in one eye while practicing making explosives there. He is taken to Pakistan for emergency treatment, but refuses to hand over a set of passports he has to that country’s ISI intelligence agency, and flees to Britain with his family due to fears of a reprisal.[O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 21-29]

Mahmoud Jaballah.Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: Public domain via Toronto Star]I

slamic Jihad operative Mahmoud Jaballah enters Canada on May 11, 1996 and applies for refugee status. There is evidence Canadian intelligence, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), begins monitoring him shortly after his arrival. A 2008 CSIS report mentions details of phone calls Jaballah makes to high-ranking Islamic Jihad leaders as early as June 1996. The CSIS will later conclude that his “primary objective incoming to Canada was to acquire permanent status in a country where he would feel secure in maintaining communications with other [Islamic Jihad] members.” Jaballah is wary his calls may be monitored, and uses code words to discuss sensitive topics. But the CSIS is able to figure out many of the code words, for instance the mention of clothes to refer to travel documents. 

Jaballah frequently calls Thirwat Salah Shehata, one of nine members of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council; the Egyptian government will later also call Shehata “a key figure in bin Laden’s organization.” They are in regular contact until August 1998, when Shehata moves to a new location in Lebanon but does not give Jaballah his new phone number. 

Jaballah also stays in frequent contact with Ahmad Salama Mabruk, another member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. Mabruk is arrested in 1998. 

Jaballah is also in frequent contact with Ibrahim Eidarous and Adel Abdel Bary, two Islamic Jihad operatives living in London and working closely with Khalid al-Fawwaz, Osama bin Laden’s de facto press secretary. He calls them over 60 times between 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden is monitored by Western intelligence agencies as he frequently calls Bary, Eidarous, and al-Fawwaz until all three are arrested one month after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Jaballah presumably becomes more suspicious that he is being monitored in September 1998, when Canadian officials interview him and tell him they are aware of his contacts with the three men arrested in London. 

The CSIS will later call Jaballah an “established contact” for Ahmed Said Khadr, a founding al-Qaeda member living in Canada. Khadr had been arrested in Pakistan in 1995 for suspected involvement in an Islamic Jihad bombing there, but he was released several months later after pressure from the Canadian government. After returning to Canada, Khadr ran his own non-profit organization, Health and Education Projects International (HEPI), and allegedly used the money he raised to help fund the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan. If the CSIS was aware of Khadr’s activities through Jaballah, it is not clear why no action was taken against him or his charity before 9/11. 

Essam Marzouk is an al-Qaeda operative living in Vancouver, Canada. During one call, Jaballah is asked for Marzouk’s phone number. He says he does not have it, but gives the name of another operative, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, who is known to be in contact with Marzouk. Marzouk will later leave Canada to train the African embassy bombers, stopping by Toronto to visit Mahjoub on the way out of the country. 

Jaballah is monitored communicating with other Islamic Jihad operatives, including ones in Germany, Yemen, and elsewhere in Canada. 

He is arrested in March 1999, but after his arrest his wife warns him to reduce his communications and offers to help obtain information from his associates. He acquires a post office box in August 1999 and uses it to continue communicating with militants overseas. He is released in November 1999 and the CSIS will later claim he continues to communicate with other militants until he is arrested again in August 2001. [CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, 2/22/2008 ]

1997 and 1999: FBI and Canadian Intelligence Investigate Member of Boston Al-Qaeda Cell

In 1997, Canadian intelligence begins investigating Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian exporter originally from Syria. Almalki is working with Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi and Abdelrahman Elzahabi, who are brothers and business partners, to send electronic equipment to Pakistan. Around 1995, the three of them sent large numbers of portable field radios to Pakistan. Apparently, some of them are used by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces (the US will later recover many field radios of the same make and model in Afghanistan after 9/11). 

However, there is no law against exporting the radios, and investigators are unable to prove any crime was committed. Abdelrahman is working in New York City as a mechanic while Mohamad Kamal is working in Boston as a taxi driver. Three other taxi drivers at the same company are al-Qaeda operatives who knew each other and Mohamad Kamal in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and June 1995-Early 1999), and he will later admit to being a sniper instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. The FBI in Boston begins investigating him in 1999, but fails to prove he is a terrorist. They lose track of him when he leaves the US later that year to fight the Russians in Chechnya. The FBI later discovers him driving trucks in Minnesota and arrests him for lying to federal agents about his knowledge of the field radios (see Mid-August 2001). [GLOBE AND MAIL, 3/17/2007

It seems probable that the investigation of Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi strengthens suspicions about a Boston al-Qaeda cell. One of his associates at the taxi company, Raed Hijazi, works as an FBI informant starting in 1997 (see Early 1997-Late 1998]), and another, Nabil al-Marabh, is questioned by the FBI in 1999 (see April 1999-August 1999). Almalki is later arrested in Syria while visiting relatives there and severely tortured before eventually being released and returned to Canada (see September 19 or 20, 2003).

Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri sends money to bin Laden’s Darunta camp, which is part of al-Qaeda’s network of training camps in Afghanistan. Abu Hamza, who is under investigation by Scotland Yard at this time for his involvement in a kidnapping and murder scheme in Yemen, apparently diverts the money from a fund at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which he runs. The US will later say it has e-mail traffic that proves the transfer. Abu Hamza trained at the camp in the mid-1990s. [O'NEILL AND MCGRORY, 2006, PP. 74-5]

In the late autumn of 2001, when US-allied forces are overrunning Taliban positions in Afghanistan, the Darunta camp run by al-Qaeda is seized and searched. Al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) ran al-Qaeda’s WMD program and conducted crude chemical weapons experiments there. The CIA recovers one document there by Mursi that refers to connections between al-Qaeda and Pakistani nuclear scientists. It reads, in part, “As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, amongst which are radioactive elements that could be used for military ends. One can use them to contaminate an area or halt the advance of the enemy. It is possible to get more information from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere.” [BERGEN, 2006, PP. 345; LEVY AND SCOTT-CLARK, 2007, PP. 294] This could be a reference to links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani nuclear scientists working with the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau charity front (see 2000and Mid-August 2001).

At a Guantanamo Bay tribunal to decide his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007), militant Islamist logistics manager Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is accused of heading Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan and of co-ordinating their operation with Osama bin Laden, as well as moving money for al-Qaeda, desiring fraudulently-obtained Canadian passports for a terrorist plot, and making diary entries about planned attacks in the US. [US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 3/27/2007

Complaints of Torture, Admission of False Confessions - Zubaida complains of being tortured in US custody (see Mid-May 2002 and After and March 10-April 15, 2007). 

Zubaida’s statements about his treatment in US custody will be redacted from the trial transcripts, but a few remarks remain. In broken English, Zubaida states: “I was nearly before half die plus [because] what they do [to] torture me. There I was not afraid from die because I do believe I will be shahid [martyr], but as God make me as a human and I weak, so they say yes, I say okay, I do I do, but leave me. They say no, we don’t want to. You to admit you do this, we want you to give us more information… they want what’s after more information about more operations, so I can’t. They keep torturing me.” The tribunal president, a colonel whose name is also redacted, asks, “So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?” Zubaida replies, “Yes.” [US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 3/27/2007 ; VANITY FAIR, 12/16/2008

Denies Being Al-Qaeda Member or Enemy of US - He goes on to deny that he is an “enemy combatant,” saying that the Khaldan training camp, which he admits being logistics manager of, was around since the Soviet-Afghan War and was also used to train Muslims who wanted to fight invaders in Muslim lands, such as Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines, and Bosnia, where “America helped us.” After he was captured the US administration exaggerated his importance, and some media accounts have suggested his role was greatly exaggerated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).

He denies being an official member of al-Qaeda and says he disagrees with attacks on civilians. However, he admits some of his trainees subsequently decided to join al-Qaeda and that he did not prevent them from doing this. He also denies moving the money and submits a volume of his diary that apparently shows he was in Pakistan when the charges state he went to Saudi Arabia to collect the money.

He requests the production of other volumes of his diaries, on which some of the charges are based, but they are not made available to the tribunal. In addition, he denies corresponding with bin Laden before 2000 and details a dispute that arose between them after that time. He says his diary entries about military targets are “strictly hypothetical,” and the passports are for non-terrorist travel.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, he admits he helped non-aligned fighters escape from South Asia. He states that he is an enemy of the US because of its alliance with Israel, which he claims is oppressing his fellow Palestinians, saying, “A partner of a killer is also a killer.” [US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 3/27/2007 ]