The captured al Qaeda operations chief, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, assures his American interrogators that Osama bin Laden is alive and well and still on the lam across a broad stamping ground. According to information collected most recently by the CIA – and confirmed by Shaikh Mohammed – bin Laden still maintains limited contact with the chiefs of al Qaeda’s various factions and continues to hide out in Pakistani villages near the border with Afghanistan.
He moves about constantly, usually between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan through Iran.
Village headmen are paid handsomely to keep the al Qaeda chief safe. They believe they are also rewarded from heaven.
Recently, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report, CIA agents disguised in traditional Afghan-Pakistani dress, came within a whisker of bin Laden’s hiding place in the Vazirestan tribal area, the scene of Pakistani troop-al Qaeda battles two months ago. By the time they arrived, he was on his way to his next prepared hideout. Bin Laden takes no chances; he frequently changes his appearance and bodyguards. He has not appeared on any new photos for almost a year. Sometimes, he is clean-shaven; at others, he wears a false, heavy beard.
The terrorist leader sent all four of his wives and his many children to Iran, whence most were transferred to safe havens in the Gulf emirates. His followers recently fed the United States a false lead. They reported that bin Laden delivered a sermon for Eid al-Adha, the Moslem Feast of the Sacrifice, in a borderland Afghani mosque.
With the help of state of the art equipment and satellites, the CIA was able to intercept bin Laden’s radio messages for a short time. But al Qaeda soon developed a new method of transmitting messages via the Internet and email that made it next to impossible to pinpoint their point of origin.
Amid the effusive expressions of gratitude coming from Washington for Pakistan’s help in catching Mohammed, it should be remembered that the al Qaeda officer lived for many months under the protection of Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, with permission from President Pervez Musharref. A close watch was kept on his every move, but he was forewarned whenever US agents come close to collaring him.
Eventually, he was tracked down in Rawalpindi because he made the mistake of using a regular telephone.
Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s former capital, has long been an important al Qaeda operational center. Mohammed was arrested with two other al Qaeda officers, Amad Abdul Qudous and Mustafa Ahmad al-Issawi, who brought the CIA valuable information on the movement of arms and money to the terror squads scattered along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say that preliminary information gleaned from their interrogation indicated that al Qaeda had big plans. In addition to the mega-terror attacks plotted for US targets in and outside America, the group was in the final stages of setting up networks to strike in the Far East.
Intelligence officials in the Philippines confirmed that Mohammed visited the country six years ago to organize sleeper Islamic terrorist cells for an anti-US “Doomsday” plan, prepared before the September 11, 2001 attacks. The officials believe he also looked into the possibility of assassinating Pope John Paul when he visited Manila.
Al Qaeda has tightened its ties with Sepah Sahabeh, a radical Sunni terrorist group, which hates the United States and all foreigners. It maintains a stronghold in Karachi, where the US consulate has been the target of several recent terror attacks.
Last Monday, Mohammed was whisked out of Pakistan by helicopter to the US Bagram air base near Kabul, the only facility in Afghanistan fully controlled by the Americans. US forces, fearing Taliban rocket attacks or even a Hollywood-style rescue attempt by al Qaeda, have stepped up security around the base.
Mohammed’s capture lifted morale in Pakistan’s security agencies, who began to boast they would soon unravel the terrorist infrastructure plaguing their country. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources note that al Qaeda’s penetration of Pakistan, with Sepah Sahabeh’s help, is so deep that rooting out all its cells is virtually impossible. Pakistan’s security forces are riddled with moles more than happy to pass information to al Qaeda in return for cash or out of religious and ideological zeal.
In Afghanistan, al Qaeda’s enjoys the hospitality of former Afghan prime minister Golbodin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb Eslami terrorist group. Burned in the past, Bin Laden’s men may not fully trust Hekmatyar and fear he may sell them out to the Americans. But meanwhile he continues to give al Qaeda bases for training suicide terrorists. After training, the Islamic kamikazes are moved into areas controlled by the Vazirestan tribes, where they are equipped with new identifies and papers and transferred to Rawalpindi. They then head to Islamabad and their eventual targets.
It is all part of the schemes of al Qaeda and its partners to establish major bases of operation in Japan, India, the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as in other countries. To plant its operatives into Western countries, al Qaeda first moves them to Kosovo and Bosnia on their way to cross mountains and borders and enter Germany and Italy. Entry into the United States is via Canada or Mexico.