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BIN LADEN GIVES SIGNS OF LIFE

Paper No. 547                         16/11/2002

by B. Raman

In a series of articles written since October, 7, 2001, I have been stressing the following points:
 

* Al Qaeda and the Taliban adopted a deliberate policy of avoiding a frontal confrontation with the allied troops led by the US and dispersed from Afghanistan into the adjoining tribal areas of Pakistan immediately after the US air strikes began.

* While the US managed to kill Mohammed Atef, the former Egyptian police officer who was the operational chief of Osama bin Laden and was responsible for his personal security, and subsequently captured with Pakistani help Abu Zubaida and Ramzi Binalshibh, the majority of the leaders and trained Arab cadres of Al Qaeda remained alive and kicking, including bin Laden himself, and had dispersed themselves in Pakistan, including in Karachi. Bin Laden, who was physically incapacitated  and whose speech was impaired by a sharpnel injury, had been given shelter in the Binori madrasa of Karachi where he was being treated by a group of serving and retired doctors of the Pakistani Army.

* The survivors of the International Islamic Front (IIF), also led by bin Laden, who frontally confronted the Northern Alliance and the US-led troops for some weeks after October 7, 2001, before fleeing to Pakistan, have also dispersed themselves. While the survivors of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), have largely taken shelter in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan), those of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and a splinter group of the HUM called the HUM (Al Almi--Universal) have taken shelter in Karachi.

* The survivors of the IIF from South-East Asia and Chechnya, who confronted the Northern Alliance and the US-led allied troops in Afghanistan under the banner of the five Pakistani components of the IIF, have been finding their way back to their countries of origin and were responsible for the recent acts of terrorism in the Philippines, Indonesia (Bali) and Moscow. The spurt in their acts of terrorism was Iraq-related.

2. In this connection, attention needs to be drawn to the following observations in my past articles:

* "Apart from rumours and  speculation, no credible evidence is still available on the fate of Osama bin Laden.  The most persistent and widespread (in the Pashtun belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border) speculation is that he has been physically incapacitated by a sharpnel injury and that his speech has also been affected.  This, if true,  could explain his audio and visual black-out despite  the repeated assertions of persons claiming to speak on his behalf that he is alive and active and would shortly appear on TV.  The speculation is that he has been sheltered either in the Binori madrasa of Karachi or in one of the madrasas in the tribal belt and that he is under treatment by a group of retired medical experts of the Pakistan Army. It is said that his speech impediment is not serious and that  his doctors are hopeful that this could be rectified."  (Article titled "Where Are All the Terrorists Gone? of July 29, 2002, available at  http://www.saag.org/papers5/paper500.html)

* "Pakistani sources claim that bin Laden continues to be physically incapacitated by a sharpnel injury and that despite the best efforts of serving and retired Pakistani Army doctors, he had not been able to recover his normal speech at least till August 10, 2002. Reports dated August 10, 2002, indicated that he continued to be under treatment in the Binori madrasa of Karachi. Subsequent developments are not known. This physical incapacity should explain his long absence from the TV and the radio and his followers resorting to disseminating on the internet letters purported to have been written by him to project him as alive and kicking." (Article titled  "Al Qaeda: Will It Or Will It Not?" of August 30, 2002, available at http://www.saag.org/papers6/paper513.html )

3.   The Al Jazeera TV network is reported to have telecast on November 12, 2002, a voice-recorded speech of bin Laden in which he had referred to the recent terrorist incidents  in Tunisia, Yemen, Kuwait, Bali and Moscow, condemned President George Bush and his senior colleagues and hinted at further terrorist strikes directed not only at the US, but also at its allires such as the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Australia.

4. While the USA is yet to officially confirm the authenticity of bin Laden's voice in the recording, US media have informally quoted US intelligence officials as having confirmed that it was his voice. Officials of Al Jazeera and Arab journalists, who claim to have interacted with him in the past, have also been quoted as having stated that they were convinced that the voice, the language used and the style of speaking were that of bin Laden. The recording has been widely interpreted by Western counter-terrorism experts as a call to his supporters for a fresh wave of terrorism directed against the Western targets named by him.

5. According to reports circulating  in circles close to Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai,  of the Binori madrasa, the recording was made in the madrasa, and passed on to Al Jazeera via Bangladesh. It is not clear as to why it had to be sent through Bangladesh since it could have been easily sent from Balochistan through a fisherman's boat, without much danger of being intercepted or through the diplomatic bag of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as was done with some of the past visual/audio recordings. It is also not yet known whether ISI officers sympathetic to bin Laden played any role in facilitating the transmission through Bangladesh.

6. The reference made by bin Laden in his message to the recent wave of terrorist incidents does not necessarily mean that these were actually carried out at his instance or that he had co-ordinated them, but he has tried to give the impression that he was the mastermind behind them in order to maintain his credibility in the eyes of his followers in different countries and their morale. It has been my assessment and it continues to be so that the recent terrorist strikes in the Philippines, Indonesia and Moscow were carried out by his followers in those countries at their own initiative and for their own reasons. An attempt is now being made either by bin Laden himself, if the recording is authentic, or by someone based in Pakistan on his behalf, if it is not authentic, to project all these incidents as part of a master plan inspired and orchestrated by him.

7. The tape refers to the attack on French submarine construction engineers in Karachi, but omits any specific mention of the kidnapping and execution of Daniel Pearl, the journalist of the "Wall Street Journal", the grenade attack inside an Islamabad church in which two US nationals were killed, and the car bomb explosion outside the US Consulate in Karachi.  All these strikes were carried out by the cadres of the Pakistani components of the IIF.

8. This omission by bin Laden, which seems to be deliberate, is apparently meant to avoid creating any embarrassment to the regime of Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator, which has been protecting him. Bin Laden has tried to project that the anti-US terrorist incidents in Pakistani territory had nothing to do with him or his Al Qaeda or the IIF.

9. The recording clrearly corroborates , if further proof was needed, what I have been saying repeatedly, namely, that Al Qaeda and the IIF could not have survived intact without the support and the complicity of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment. Musharraf's co-operation with the US in the past has been limited to the capture of those terrorists such as Abu Zubaida and Binalshibh, about whose presence in Pakistani territory the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had confronted him with precise intelligence. In other cases, he has avoided helping the US, hoping that the FBI would not be able to get intelligence of their whereabouts in Pakistani territory.

10. The USA has not so far succeeded in smoking out the sleeper agents of the HUM and the Jamaat-ul-Fuqra in US territory. They are all US nationals, who  were trained in Pakistani training camps in the 1990s and sent back to the US for carrying the jihad to the US  homeland. They are likely to play an important role in any encore of 9/11 by bin Laden in pursuance of his latest warning.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com )

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