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20 years on, Pakistan’s links with 9/11 must be probed

Indian intelligence agencies played an important link in making this important disclosure soon after the 9/11 attack

Bharat Dogra | NEW DELHI |

It was early September in 2001. A smart, young man in a Middle-East mansion was waiting anxiously for a telephone call. When the call came, he did not waste much time in following the instructions and wired $100,000 to an individual in the USA.  The sender of the money was none other Omar Saeed Sheikh, the terrorist rescued from Indian jails by the Kandahar hijackers of an Indian aircraft in 1999. The man who instructed on phone was none other than Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmed, the head of Pakistan’s ISI, known for his later-day closeness to extremists and the Taliban. The man who received the money in the USA was Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 19 hijackers who were preparing for the 9/11 terrorist attack. Indian intelligence agencies played an important link in making this important disclosure soon after the 9/11 attack. This was confirmed by western intellligence sources. Lt. General Mahmud resigned very soon as the head of the ISI (although he later emerged as a business leader), and the matter was sought to be hushed up with this resignation. The Wall Street Journal was one of the few leading newspapers in the West which appreciated the significance of this news and apart from publishing it, was keen to follow it up also. Its South Asia bureau chief Daniel Pearl visited Karachi in 2002. It is believed that one of his objectives was to explore these and related issues. He was kidnapped and murdered. The same Omar Saeed Sheikh who had sent the money was arrested as a leading suspect for this murder. He was given the death sentence which was later waived.
In 2003 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), a Pakistani citizen, was arrested in Pakistan. He was accused of being the main collaborator of Osama bin Laden in planning the 9/11 attack and has been in the custody of US authorities since then. It was stated on the basis of his questioning that he was the main culprit in the Daniel Pearl murder. Hence the involvement of both Omar and Mohammed in this murder was confrmed. Both have also been indicted for al Queda links but both of them also had links to the ISI. Omar is formally a British citizen but had been closely involved with Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based terrorist activities. He was called a double agent by President Musharraf of Pakistan. His first known criminal activity was kidnapping tourists in India. He was reported some time back to be living rather comfortably in a Pakistani jail. As the Dawn newspaper reported, even from his jail cell he tried at least once to aggravate India-Pak hostilities by making false phone calls to high authorities.
Omar and Mohammed are just two of several leading terrorists whose careers would appear to confirm that the ISI had links to the 9/11 attacks. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the horrible terrorist attack, there is increasing demand in the USA and elsewhere for the truth regarding the tragic attack to be uncovered entirely. After all, 3000 lives were lost in this terrorist attack and it unleashed a host of other troubling and violent actions.
However, the demand for uncovering the truth in the USA has so far focused more on unveiling the hidden connections of some Saudi aristocrats/businessmen and other related factors as these were mentioned in a special report on intelligence by both Houses and there was a lot of hesitation regarding release of 28 controversial pages of this report. But clearly there is also a need to look more carefully at the Pakistani connection.
When militants were recruited from all over the world to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan, there was close cooperation between the USA and Pakistan and in the course of this entire effort Pakistani army and ISI officers with fundamentalist and sectarian ideologies were pushed to the forefront. Like many of the miltant organizations they supported, these officers were also overall against western influences and after the primary aim of ousting the Soviet army was achieved, several plots of attacking western interests were being hatched, particularly by the likes of Osama bin Laden and KSM.
Given their sympathies and strong ideological orientation, it is not unlikely that elements in ISI and related Pakistani agencies were willing to help the militants in this too, or else at least were willing to look the other way when they saw their friends making such plans. This may also be their way of ensuring that these militants continued to serve their agenda in Afghanistan, not to mention other places of cruial interest to them. In this context a report published in an important French newspaper Le Figaro (31 October, 2001) had attracted much attention and was republished at several places. This report stated that Osama Bin Laden, despite being the most wanted terrorist, had visited a Dubai hospital in July 2001 for urgent treatement and that he had come here from Quetta in Pakistan. This and related reports indicated that visits to Quetta, for stated hunting expeditions but also to meet terrorists based near this city were also common. In this context the 9 September 2001 assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir who resisted the Taliban till the last is also of great importance. Massoud had been fiercely critical of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. This assassination believed to have been carried out by the al Qaeda in collusion with the Taliban most probably also had the involvement of the ISI. Hence it is significant to know that the killers posing as journalists who wanted to interview Massoud were very insistent on getting a date before September 11, the day of the Twin Towers attack. So those who planned this attack also knew about the 9/11 attack much in advance. These and related aspects of Pakistani links to 9/11 need to be better explored. This may be just the right time for this overdue exercise as we approach the 20th anniversary of the dreadful 9/11 attack.

The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth For Children and Planet in Peril.