Levy discusses his forthcoming book The Exile and makes interesting revelations, hitertoo, unknown to the world

Al Qaeda’s leadership was sheltered by Iran, along with the senior members of the military council. A trove of interviews, letters and communiqués from Al Qaeda, as well as first hand interviews with members of its leadership council and Osama bin Ladin’s own family, in what is the largest deep dive ever undertaken inside a paranoiac terror outfit, reveals the proximity of Shia Iran to Sunni Al Qaeda – however unlikely that sounds.

Publish Date : June 10, 2017

By Iftikhar Gilani

British authors Adrian Levy and  Catherine Scott-Clark are here again, this time with an extraordinary inside story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the years after 9/11. Their earlier works included  blowing the cover of  Pakistan nuclear scientist A Q Khan’s proliferation network,  narrating the  shocking true story of a brutal kidnapping of western tourists high in the mountains of Kashmir marking the beginning of modern terrorism and unfolding  the tragic events of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. All their books have been filled with real-life thriller, suspense, tragedy, history, and heroism. In an exclusive interview with DNA, Levy discusses his forthcoming book The Exile and makes interesting revelations, hitertoo, unknown to the world: Excerpts of Interview

Q: There is interesting revelation in your book that LeT had nearly triggered a nuclear war – between India and Pakistan, so as to open a passage for Osama, family and fighters out of the besieged mountains. But what Indian intelligence has been telling us all these years that the attack was launched by JeM. Why this difference between your findings and the claims of Indian investigators?

A.When the Taliban rout began in November and December 2001, and as the first bombs landed on Afghanistan, the U.S. paid for the Pakistan army to assist in closing the back door out of Tora Bora – a plan devised by Bob Grenier, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. The U.S. bought the assistance of IX Corp, approximately 6,000 soldiers, that were ordered by Lt Gen. Ali Jan Aurakzai intothe high mountains, closing off the back door out of Afghanistan, pledging to remain there. Only a war or warlike state could have seen these six battalions redeployed.

Simultaneously, an alliance of jihad fronts, including LeT and JeM, as well as other more sectarian groups, were exhorted to come together by their handlers in the ISI, whichmanaged these sensitive relations through S-Wing, its semiautonomous department.Others involved wereAl Qaeda couriers in Pakistan, as well as non AlQaeda logistic handlers like Abu Zubaydah, who opposed 9/11 but supported the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban.

The Pakistan jihad groups like LeT and JeM initially acted as catchers and guides, working together with tribal warlords like Nek Mohammed, picking up Al Qaeda fighters, and Osama’s family, as they crossed over from Afghanistan and into Pakistan, and then made their way to Karachi. But they also lent a network of safe houses, ultimately controlled by Khalid ShaikhMohammed, the 9/11 architect, whose men safeguarded the Al Qaeda fighters’ identity documents and issued them with counterfeit ones. KSM met with Hafiz Saeed, documented it, and his communications with LeT and its leader were later seized by the US when it captured KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh in Pakistan. This led the CIA to conclude that the ISI also knew intimate details about Al Qaeda, as LeT could not have had dealings with that outfit without passing them along.

According to ISI officers, senior officers in the Pakistan military and Western intelligence agents, these jihad groups also were called on to “draw fire”, and the JeM attack on Parliament was a planned sortie, conducted with the logistical assistance of LeT.

Osama had delayed the Tora Bora final onslaught by offering a surrender deal to the U.S. on December 11 via Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, a Libyan commander who had been with him from the start, opening Khaldan, one of the first mujahideen training camps set up with CIA cash during the 1980s and running it in the early 1990s with the assistance of Abu Zubaydah.Ibn Sheikh used this tantalizing deal to play for time, and hold off the final push by US Special Forces operators. He asked for an extension to the deal on 11th and 12thbut by December 13th, there was no word from the caves, but there were Pakistan troop movements.

During the complex secret negotiations between AQ and the US, JeM, supported by LeT, made a highly visible and symbolic attack at the Indian parliament on December 12, which, they say, and intelligence sources concur, was designed to humiliateand inflame Indian sensibilities, and create a warlike situation. It did, with Indian troops massing on the Pakistan border, a standoff that saw Pakistan consider a nuclear option, fearing the bifurcation of the country, unveiling its warheads, while redeploying the battalions loaned to the US from Tora Bora to its border.

So some officers in the ISI, and the jihad fronts themselves, were prepared to risk a regional conflagration, with a nuclear dimension, to ensure Osama and the leadership escaped.

Q: The books seems travelling the path of your earlier work Meadows. The White House knew the whereabouts of bin Laden's family and Al Qaeda's military and religious leaders, but rejected opportunities to capture them. Instead pursued war in the Persian Gulf. Did you find any reaons?

Many countries (inside and outside the sub continent) benefit from enabling insurgencies far more than they do by quashing them. Pakistan and the US prefer certain wars to run long. India too. There is a war dividend. The Bush administration could have seized Al Qaeda’s religious shura, and part of its military council, and held almost all of Osama’s much loved family, potentially forcing the Al Qaeda emir out into the open, as far back as 2002.Instead, even though they knew all of them were being sheltered by Iranthat offered all of them up, Bush accused Iraq of aiding Al Qaeda (and possessing WMD) to justify a long held agenda to topple Saddam. In the same way, although smaller in scope, the Kashmiri kidnappings of 1995 were allowed to drag, as every day of bad newsthat saw Westerner held by Pakistan backed insurgents, was a black day for Pakistan, and a great day for Indian diplomacy in conveying the message that its neighbor backed terror.  

Q: Why intelligence agencies all over world could not get a whiff of plans of 9/11 as you reveal it was discussed at Al Qaida Shoura and infact was opposed also by few?

The key thing here is not the slow detection of the 9/11 conspiracy– there are plenty of reasons for this – not least the invisibility cape that jihad outfits and ISI agents threw around the Abbottabad house. The critical issue is the formation of the 9/11 conspiracy, which is ‘mis-described’ as an Al Qaeda plot. It was hatched outside of Al Qaeda circles, with the outfit’s ruling military council and religious shura kept in the dark and at arms length. Both bodies disliked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who drew up the plan and who had not sworn an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, and refrained from joining Al Qaeda. KSM was seen as a cocksure psychopath who did not care for Al Qaeda per se or its discipline. When the Planes Operation (as he called it)- which was planned and run by men who were not in Al Qaeda -was finally brought to the attention of the shura – many (most) voted against it, and the head of the religious committee, Mahfouzib El Waleed, a powerful voice respected by everyone, resigned in protest.

All those who opposed 9/11 argued that it would bring about the destruction of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and destroy the Taliban. They also warned that unjustifiable civilian casualties would alienate support while triggering a war they could not win.

Osama, as CEO of the LLC, overrode his own quasi ‘democratic’ organs, and pushed the‘Planes Operation’ plan on. After then, when a starburst happened, with Al Qaeda leaders and fighters and families fleeing, KSM assumed control of Al Qaeda from his bolt hole in Karachi, and ran the outfit he refused to join, pushing it into increasingly pathological acts, especially the murder of Daniel Pearl, which triggered a backlash that disrupted virtually all of the outfit’s safe house network and jeopardized Osama’s family – who left was forced to leave Karachi for Iran.

While in hiding in Iran, where the US could not reach them, and declined a deal to receive them in exchange for normalizing relations, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s ego was apparently boundless – something that endangered the outfit frequently.A great illustration of this is how when he was already one of the world’s most wanted men,and when Al Qaeda was still fragile and rebuilding, he contacted a reporter in the UK to commission a three-part documentarycommemorating 9/11 to be aired on the first anniversaryof 9/11.He zeroed inon Egyptian correspondentYosriFouda who worked for Al Jazeera.

When he stepped off the plane at Quaid-e-Azam International Airport inKarachi, the remains of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had justbeen discovered in nearby Ahsanabad.Fouda, extremely frightened,was taken to the Regent Plaza Hotel, where he was told toregister and waited. The next morning, hewas told to leave the hotel through a rearentrance and take a taxi. Finally, he arrived and was led up four flights of stairs.

“It’s okay, you can take the blindfold off,” said a high-pitched voice, as adoor closed behind him.

Fouda found himself standing face-to-face with a short, hairy manwith a huge protruding belly under his shalwarkameez. He led the reporterinto a back room where a younger man in a keffiyah was sitting on the floor surrounded by laptops and mobile phones.

“Recognize us yet?” the fat man joked, as his friend jumped up and shookFouda’s hand warmly. “You will when intelligence dogs turn up at yourdoor,” said the younger man, giving him a toothy grin.

Fouda didn’t know what to say as the men introduced themselves asKhalid Shaikh Mohammad and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, two of the most wantedmen in the world.

He blurted out: “They say that you are terrorists.”

“They are right,” Khalid, aka Mokhtar, replied, smiling proudly. “We liketo terrorize disbelievers. That is what we do for a living.”

By Sunday afternoon, they had spent almost forty-eight hours together,praying, eating, and discussing the ethics of mass murder. Fouda wasmentally and physically exhausted. After he gathered up his things, al-Shibhhugged him deeply.

At the door, an assistant tied a blindfold on Fouda. Khalid guided himdown the stairs, talking all the way. “You know what?” he said. “You wouldmake the perfect terrorist. I mean look at yourself! You are young, intelligent,highly educated, well organized, you speak good English, you live inLondon, and you are single. You remind me in a sense of brother Atta.”

Fouda struggled to find any words, let alone the right ones, eventuallyblurting out: “One of Allah’s dearest blessings is that no human being canread the minds of their fellow human beings.”

Fouda heard a car door open and he felt Khalid’s hand on his. “You aresuch a good man,” Khalid said. “God bless you and protect you.”

Q: Why despite spending billions and military actions West has been unable to root out  Al Qaeda and its dreaded offshoot ISIS?

Al Qaeda’s leadership was sheltered by Iran, along with the senior members of the military council. A trove of interviews, letters and communiqués from Al Qaeda, as well as first hand interviews with members of its leadership council and Osama bin Ladin’s own family, in what is the largest deep dive ever undertaken inside a paranoiac terror outfit, reveals the proximity of Shia Iran to Sunni Al Qaeda – however unlikely that sounds.

Al Qaeda’s arrangement goes back to the weeks immediately after 9/11 when American missiles were falling on Afghanistan and Osama’s personal spiritual adviser, a Mauritanian religious scholar, Mahfouz Ibn El Waleed, was dispatched to find a new home for a desperate Al Qaeda. A critical figure on Osama’s ruling shura (council), he recalled in a series of recent interviews, the first to Western reporters, that his choices were limited. Pakistan was siding with the U.S. “war on terror.” However, Iran shared common borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. “It offered a protective bubble that roving U.S. forces dared not penetrate,” Mahfouz Ibn El Waleed said. Strategic, Shia Iran was renowned for backing Sunni causes it did not personally endorse but that antagonized its enemies.

Mahfouz headed for the Iranian border on 19 December 2001. His point of contact was Major General QassemSuleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, an influential officer, close to Iran’s supreme leader, who handled Tehran’s covert foreign policy interests. Suleimani enabled the exodus to begin in March 2002, when Quds Force agents set up a desert refugee camp on the Afghan border to where hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters, leaders and their families arrived. From there they were escorted to Tehran, where women and children were put up at the four-star Howeyzeh Hotel on Tehran’s Taleqani Street, just down from the former U.S. embassy, and husbands and unmarried brothers stayed across the road at the Amir Hotel. In the lobbies, the Quds Force set up information points, issuing papers that presented the Arab fighters and their families as Iraqi Shia refugees from the Iran-Iraq War. They escorted them onto flights that left for Muslim majority states in Southeast Asia, and to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Osama’s family and several high-ranking Al Qaeda leaders, including Saif al-Adel, the military chief, by then on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, arrived in Iran that year. Saif and two men who travelled with him had plotted the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in East Africa and they now set about reforming the outfit’s leadership council in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city. Their letters show how they established a funding pipeline through Iran and began plotting new attacks, including the Riyadh compound suicide bombings of 2003 in which 39 were killed.

Many of Al Qaeda’s leaders remained in Iran until the summer of 2015, when four of them were secretly flown to Damascus. One was Abu Mohammed al-Masri, father-in-law to Hamzah bin Laden, Osama’s son and heir, a terrorist who the FBI described as the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in U.S.or allied custody.”

In 2016, after 13 years in Iran, military chief Saif al-Adel was quietly flown to Syria, where he remains. The co-operation did not end there. Evidence has recently emerged that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s leader, may have also shifted to Iran. The country continues to protect Hamzah bin Laden’s in-laws. Last week he issued his latest pronouncement, encouraging lone-wolf-style attacks against the West in a campaign entitled: “We Are All Osama”.

But aside from the organization itself being protected, the Pakistan jihad fronts, and ISI handlers, worked tirelessly to keep watchers at bay. Key among them were HafeezSaeed, and MasoodAzharwho had pledged allegiance to Osama in December1999 after being released from an Indian jail in exchange for passengers ona hijacked Indian Airlines jet that had been forced down at Kandahar airport,within sight of TarnakQila, the Al Qaeda field headquarters.

Former ISI DG, General Hamid Gul, kept in occasional touch with Osama and in frequent touch with other Al Qaeda leaders and allies likeFazlurRehman Khalil.

Khalil and Osama knew each other from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, at which time Khalil,a Punjabi by birth, had been a popular commander, fluent in Arabic and askilled operator with a Stinger missile. His group had gained notoriety in1995 when mujahideen loyal to him kidnapped six Western backpackers inIndian administered Kashmir.

In 1998, Khalil became a signatory to Osama’s famous fatwa against“Jews and Crusaders,” and in 1999 his group helped in the hijacking ofan Indian passenger jet to secure the release of MasoodAzhar. (Also freed was Omar Sheikh, theBritish-Pakistani who went on to lure Daniel Pearl to his death.)

In Afghanistan, Khalil had acted as a go-between with Mullah Omar, andhis forces had helped Al Qaeda infiltrate Pakistan after 9/11. During Osama’s days in exile, Khalil operated training camps in the Tribal Areas, which he now hoped to shiftcloser to Abbottabad. He was in hiding himself, after being tipped off thatthe Americans—sick of the license given him by the ISI—wanted to kill him.

Khalil met Osama in 2005 on the fringes of the Tribal Areas. It was the Al Qaeda leader’s firsttrip out of Abbottabad, and as he clipped short his beard, he told Amal, his fourth wife, hewas nervous.

When Osama and Khalil sat down together that night, they shared a meal ofgoat and rice as Khalil revealed he hadbrought a highly sensitive proposal from General Hamid Gul, former ISI DG.

After the Soviets were defeated, Gul had become one of Osama’s mostoutspoken advocates, supporting Mullah Omar, too. They met twice inSudan, with Gul later bragging about these get-togethers—although sometimeshe denied them.

A mischievous and belligerent contrarian and inveterate plotter, alwaysready with a scheme in each pocket and another in his sock, Gul championedthe cause of Pakistani national interest.

Khalil told Osama that powerful friends backed the controversial general still.He pointed to the ISI’s S-Wing, the 313 Brigade formed with ISI cadre, andthe assassination attempts this unit had made on Musharraf that had beenassisted by members of the Pakistan armed forces, using IEDs fashionedthe old ISI way.

This cabal had had an idea, Khalil said. They wanted to revive an oldrumor, passing Osama off as having died from a chronic condition. It wasa typical ISI smoke screen, modeled on the protective cordon thrown uparound Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who had been allowed to reestablishhis shura in Quetta before heading down to Karachi, where he remainedhidden in an ISI safe house, sick with diabetes.

With Osama “killed off,” Gul would use his deep contacts within the spydirectorate to make sure that no one came sniffing around Bilal Town. Allother arms of intelligence and security, from the regular police to the SpecialBranch, Military Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau, and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA; Pakistan’s equivalent of the FBI), would be keptaway. Any intelligence that related to Arabs or the search for Al Qaeda wouldbe funneled through the ISI’s S-Wing, to which Gul had direct access.

Tangible proof of this deal came almost right away, with the FIA’s directorgeneral warned to “not touch any case involving Arabs.”

Osama was not yet convinced. In an undated letter to AtiyahAbd al-Rahman listing significant Al Qaeda losses since 9/11, he had blamed AbuZubaydah’s capture on “our opening up so much to Lashkar-e-Taiba,” something he still believed. Lashkar was pro–Al Qaeda, but ultimately it was acreature of the ISI that was only for itself. Khalil tried to convince him otherwise,pointing out that he would not be alone in receiving such protection.

They had many friends in common who survived in Pakistan only becauseof their connections with the security establishment. Beside Mullah Omar,there were warlord Hekmatyar, tribal chieftain JalaluddinHaqqani and hissons, radical cleric ( maulana ) Sami ul-Haq, and, most important, Lashkarboss Hafi z Saaed and Jaish emir MasoodAzhar.

Gul and Khalil had Osama’s back, and if anyone in Pakistan’s security establishment needed to reach him directly, they would act as intermediaries.

In 2009, Khalil and Gul sought out Osama once more, and brought with them a message from the serving ISI DG, Ahmed Shuja Pasha.  “We are trying to convince the Americans and pressure them to negotiate with Al Qaeda and to convince them, as well, that negotiating with the Taliban side and without Al-Qaeda is of no use.”

“Just wait a little bit,” Pasha had apparently said. “If we are able to convince the Americans, then we have no objection to . . . sitting down with you.”

A ceasefire between Pakistan and Al Qaeda would have appalled the U.S. but it also worried Al Qaeda.

An Al Qaeda emissary, the Libyan AtiyahAbd al-Rahman, wrote Osama. “Are the Pakistanis serious, or are they just playing with us?” he asked Osama. “We must be cautious.” The army and the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari were under constant pressure from their “lords and masters” in the United States to eradicate Al Qaeda. Sensitive to “enemy tricks,” Atiyah wondered if this ISI approach was just another ruse designed to entrap Osama.

Even without a peace deal, Al Qaeda blossomed, as Osama shuttered away in Abbottabad continue to micro manage an outfit whose ideas proved hardy and powerful, igniting other franchises and movements – including IS.

Q: You have done a research on ISI and its involvement. You have mentioned about a secret report it commissioned, but  then buried it. Can you just elaborate about this report and the acts of Pakistan’s spy agency?

The ISI produced several reports. The first was a commissioned book Operation Geronimo: The Betrayal and Execution of Osama binLaden and Its Aftermath, by ShaukatQadir, a retired Brigadier, which includes many if not most of the ISI’s cover stories, justifications and smoke. It was a damage limitation exercise, which achieved zero traction and attracted few readers.

The second report the ISI commissioned was the official inquirywhere four dignitaries were appointed. Three did nothing but one,Ashraf JehangirQazi, took the job seriously. Qazi was a well-respected former ambassador tosome of Pakistan’s most challenging posts including the United States, Russia,China, and India. He came from illustrious but deeply principled stock.His Irish mother, Jennifer, had married his father, the son of a Balochitribal chief, after meeting at a ball in an Oxford college in 1939. Relocatingto the new country of Pakistan in 1948, Jennifer had become the first femalemember of the national assembly from her province, and she later acted asan intermediary for rebels who staged an armed uprising against the federalgovernment. When she died in 2008, thousands of Pashtun tribesmen anda smattering of Taliban raised cheers for “Mummy Jennifer” as the cortègepassed through Pishin, the Qazi family stronghold.

When the ISI tried to fob off Qazi with an edited summary of bin Laden family interrogations, he insisted on meeting the wives, captured at Abbottabad, face-to-face. For weeks, the ISI resisted, hiding behind a tangle of legalistic and diplomaticdiscussions about travel documents and to what countries they might be deported once the official case against them had been heard.

To waste more time, the women were moved to different heavily guarded villas around Islamabad, during which times they would be inaccessible tothe commission for a requisite “settling in” period.

But Qazi, who had battled with the State Department under George W. Bush’s first administration and served as special representative to UNSecretary General Ban Ki-moon in Sudan, was relentless.

The ISI apparently had Osama’s diaries but they, too, were withheld from the commission as were the twenty stacked boxes of files that U.S. SEAL Team Six operator Matthew Bissonnette had spotted on the second-floor landing but had nothad time to take. These were now in the hands of the ISI and presumablycontained a large collection of hugely valuable letters and documents fromOsama bin Laden. But they would never be published, or seen again outsideAabpara, the ISI HQ.

Qazi concluded: “There are questions that the Commission did not put tothe wives of OBL and that the intelligence agency had the time and expertiseto do so if they had wished.” As far as he could see, the ISI’s main focus over the five months since Osama’s death had been to silence all potentiallydangerous witnesses and close down all incriminating lines of inquiry, anyone of which might have exposed links between the ISI, Osama bin Laden,and the Al Qaeda and Taliban shura.

The onlywilling attendee before the Abbottabad Commission was the ISI’s General Pasha, who turned up for threesittings and gave a smooth performance. First, he attempted to flatter Qaziby describing the commission’s deliberations as “of critical importance” tothe ISI’s functioning as “the first line of national defense.” Then he repeatedwhat he had said to acting CIA director Mike Morell: that during the earlyyears after 9/11, the ISI had established an Osama bin Laden cell to follow itsown leads; but that the CIA had shared “disjointed and out of context information,”sending his operatives chasing false leads in Sargodha, Lahore,Sialkot, and Gilgit.

Diplomat Ashraf Qazi was stunned by the performances of General Pasha and his supporters, and he poured his contempt into the commission’s draftconclusions. The ISI had “completely failed to track down OBL,” leadingforeign and domestic critics to reasonably conclude that its operatives weretoo close to assets in the field who would “never tolerate a betrayal of OBL.”

As a result, the Pakistan file “was closed on him.” The ISI had “neitherbriefed the government leadership on the status of its information on OBL,nor was it asked to do so.” Even after Hillary Clinton had made her sensationalaccusation in 2010 that Osama was receiving official protection inPakistan, the ISI had still not “stepped up its efforts to satisfy itself that therewas no basis for such accusations.”

The “pretense” that the ISI leadership was in command of its field operatives“was exposed by the fact that they dared not offend their most zealousoperatives.” The handling of the Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor jailed in Lahore, was a “nationaldisgrace in which the ISI played an inglorious role.” Pasha had lost controlof “both violent jihadi militant extremists on the one hand” and “CIA specialoperatives and dirty tricks killers on the other.”

Even after the Abbottabadraid, the ISI had failed to investigate anything about Osama’s network ofsupport beyond “two dead Pakistani security guards cum couriers.”

It was a damning indictment of Pasha’s tenure.

Qazi’s conclusions were not that different from those of General JavedAlam Khan, the ISI’s former director of analysis who had once assisted theCIA’s Robert Grenier on the Al Qaeda file. Forcibly co-opted into the ISIprior to 9/11, the former intelligence chief had been appalled by what he hadseen in the days after Tora Bora. A secret General Khan kept from no onethese days was his abiding belief that the ISI, despite the conspiracies and mythmaking, was a bantam fighter punching above its weight. Khancynically thanked ambitious journalists, who, in their desire to woo news desks, fluffed up grandiose stories about the ISI’s legendary spying abilitieslike feather beds, because, frankly, without this free media, replete withsuppositions, Grand Guignol, and make-believe, he was absolutely certainthat no one outside Pakistan would ever talk about the ISI at all.

Ashraf Qazi saved his most scathing comments for last. Although thecommission had found no smoking gun of ISI complicity in hiding Osama,it concluded that “connivance, collaboration and cooperation at some levels”must have existed “on a plausible deniability basis outside government structures.”

From start to finish the whole Abbottabad episode was “nothing lessthan a collective and sustained dereliction of duty by the political, militaryand intelligence leadership of the country.”

Having questioned three hundred witnesses and reviewed three thousand official documents, the Abbottabad Commission wrote a final report that would be classified “top secret” and submitted to the prime minister ofPakistan. Anticipating an adverse reaction from the military leadership, Qazinoted in his closing comments “apprehensions that the Commission’s reportwould be ignored, or even suppressed,” and he urged the government torelease it. It wasnever made public by the PM.

Q: You have hinted that Taliban chief or even Osma’s Mauritian religious guide was not supportive of 9/11 attacks. But then the US went after them and attacked Afghanistan.

In 1999, CIA station chief Bob Grenierworking with the ISI secured thetentative blessing of Mullah Omar to allow a military force to abduct Osama from Afghanistan. 23

Many Afghanis had died when U.S cruise missiles had rained down on hiscountry as a result of the U.S. embassy attacks of 1998, and Mullah Omar made it clear that hewould not stand in the way if the ISI deployed ninety retired Pakistanicommandos to seize Osama at TarnakQila.

However, in October 1999, shortly before the plan could be actioned, themalleable civilian government of Pakistan was toppled by army chiefGeneral Pervez Musharraf, a putsch that saw the Western-leaning ISI chief(who was running the Osama kidnapping operation) slung in jail andreplaced by zealot General Mahmud Ahmed. A portcullis dropped on ISI–

CIA relations. Overnight, Grenier’s “in” ran out, as Peshawar-born Ahmed,who distrusted the Americans for their “on-off” support of Pakistan duringand after the Soviet war of the 1980s, shuttered Aabpara against foreigners.

It would be three months before Grenier was even allowed back inside thebuilding, and when he did get an invitation, his recommendation to revive theplan deploying former commandos to nab Osama was mocked by Ahmed,who told him: “In my experience those who are retired are tired.”

Later, a bomb detonated outside Mullah Omar’s Kandahar offices, and while it failed to kill the Taliban emir, he privately accused Osama.

Finally, as 9/11 was being plotted, most of the religious shura, and some of the military council, including its most powerful leaders, opposed the plans, as they were being plotted outside the oufit, and by men who were not allied to it, or even trusted.

Q: There is an interesting story of Abu Zubaydah in your book. He had an Indian connection that he stayed in Mysore. How important was he in rank and file of Al Qaeda?

Abu Zubaydah is a Palestinian. His family was given refugee status in Saudi but he was unhappy there and fled to Mysore to study, starting a relationship with a Christian woman. He fled her and India, enticed by the stories of jihad in Pakistan, only to be injured by a shell, stretchered out of the war. He never joined AL Qaeda, and never swore the bayat for Bin laden. He operated a honey business as a cover out of Board Bizaaarin Peshawar, and ran guest houses fotr those heading for Jihad.

He was a contact for LeT and JeM, and used those contacts to help the fighters fleeing the US war.

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