The Devious Game Around Abu Zubaydah

Indian military intelligence has worked up an alternative scenario of breathtaking complexity to cover some of the ambiguities of the Abu Zubaydah affair.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, the starting point for Indian intelligence chiefs is their total rejection of the claim by Pakistani leader general Pervez Musharraf that the key to the capture of one of al Qaeda’s top leaders was US-provided intelligence.

According to the Indian version, the Americans had no idea that the wanted terror chief and other al Qaeda operatives were in Faisalbad where they were found.

The raids on Faisalabad, Lahore and Multain were mounted on March 28/20 with CIA and FBI agents taking part. However, according to the Indians, the tip-off did not come from the Americans, but from Musharraf’s interior minister, retired lieutenant general Moinuddin Haider.

And who told Haider? According to this theory, it was Omar Saeed Sheikh, whose Pakistani trial for complicity in the kidnapping-murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in January, never seems to get started.

Indian military intelligence claims that the accused man served as a Pakistani agent in India, Kashmir and Afghanistan in the 1990s, and that Minister Haider, a former Pakistani military intelligence chief, was his handler. They are still said to be close.

Sheikh, both an al Qaeda zealot and a Pakistani secret operative, is therefore a double agent with a complicated agenda.

So what interest did he have in blowing Abu Zubaydah?

1. To enhance his boss, Haider’s standing, as Musharraf prepares to extend his term as president by referendum. Sheikh’s trade-off was a personal guarantee not to extradite him to the United States.

2. As a bargaining counter in the hands of Musharref, to ward off US pressure for a crackdown against Muslim extremist groups. Washington is leaning on the Pakistani leader especially hard

since al Qaeda’s March 17 attack on the Protestant international church in Islamabad, which aimed at killing as many Americans as possible.

3. Some Indian intelligence officers hold that Abu Zubaydah’s secret location was passed up the line from Sheikh to Haider to Musharraf on condition that Washington was kept in the dark. The idea was to kill Abu Zubaydah during the raid so as to make sure the Americans never got a chance to question him. The Americans would then be allowed to identify the body and claim a major coup that would be worthless for intelligence purposes.

This theory would account for the Pakistani special forces, who burst into Abu Zubaydah’s headquarters, pumping bullet after bullet into his stomach, although he was armed only with a knife. They did not count on US medical skill to keep the terrorist alive. As it turned out, a US medical team accompanying the raiders ferried him at top speed to a plane standing by for US casualties. The seriously wounded Abu Zubaydah was flown to the US military base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, where he was transferred to a hospital.

4. Some Indian officers dispute 3., holding that had Omar Saeed Sheikh really betrayed a senior al Qaeda leader of Abu Zubaydah’s rank, he would not still be among the living. He would only have turned him in after a nod from the highest authority in the terror network.

If so, why would al Qaeda want to dump Abu Zubaydah?

Indian military intelligence provides two ingenious answers:

A. The terrorist in American hands is an impostor, an Abu Zubaydah double, especially trained to impersonate the arch-terrorist. The “intelligence information” he is parting with is no more than disinformation meant to mislead his American interrogators.

B. Abu Zubaydah, who set up and ran the terror group’s training camps, is also its top computer expert. He is perhaps one of the few members conversant with al Qaeda’s codes and Internet encryption secrets for passing messages, instructions and orders to operatives around the world.

After the Tora Bora battles in December, al Qaeda chiefs most certainly changed all its codes and secret communications devices. The United States has never cracked the group’s codes or penetrated its transmissions. But, since the Tora Bora campaign, not a single message from Osama bin Laden or any other al Qaeda leader has been intercepted.

Indian intelligence suspects that Abu Zubaydah was not privy to the new codes. Between December and March he was fully occupied with organizing the exodus of al Qaeda men from Afghanistan and Pakistan and transferring them to the Gulf and Middle East.

If the Americans do indeed have custody of the real Abu Zubaydah, he will play them along for months or years before parting with any information. The Americans will lose more time by analyzing this information and trying to put it to use. In the meantime, they will be blindsided by the network’s new codes.

In this sense, the captured terror chief would serve al Qaeda as a living tool of disinformation against Washington.

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