By Shaukat Qadir –
An inside look at the intriguing events that led to the capture or the world’s most wanted man
Osama bin Laden had been ailing for some years. However, his physical and mental state (the latter bordering on dementia) began to deteriorate exponentially, after the US invasion of Afghanistan and, by 2003, he had become a physical and mental liability for Ayman Al-Zwahiri, who was effectively running Al-Qaeda operations. Bin Laden’s latest obsession was to capture Kahuta and all arguments attempting to explain the futility of such an undertaking fell on deaf ears. What was worse was that those protecting him had begun whispering to each other of Bin Laden’s physical and mental condition. It was becoming very embarrassing.
Zwahiri conferred with the Operational and the Religious Shooras (Al-Qaeda has two — very distinct from one another). The unanimous view in both was that Bin Laden should be “retired” without letting him become aware of that fact. There was only one person who could convince Bin Laden — an elusive figure known only by his pseudonym, Ayoub Al-Iraqi. He was the co-founder of Al Qaeda and is credited — by those who knew the inside story — with having authored the network’s World Vision for Bin Laden.
The world’s most wanted man had made Al-Iraqi the co-Amir but when the Al Qaeda chief fell under the influence of Palestinian Abdullah Yousaf Azzam, Al-Iraqi withdrew. However, Bin Laden still acknowledged him (Al-Iraqi) as his mentor. Al-Iraqi managed to convince Bin Laden to go into hiding in Pakistan. The latter agreed, believing his instructions issued periodically from Abbottabad would be the guiding force for Zwahiri and Al Qaeda. The task of finding a hideout and protection for Bin Laden was assigned to Abu Faraj Al-Libi, who was then No. 3 in the Al Qaeda hierarchy, immediately under Zwahiri.
Al-Libi had decided the ideal place to hide Bin Laden would be in a small cantonment, right under the nose of the military, where no-one would suspect. His preferred choice of a hideout for Bin Laden was Mardan. However, when Al-Libi conferred with the trusted courier, Abu Ahmed Al-Kuwaiti, now known to the media under another of his many pseudonyms, Arshad Khan, Al-Libi was advised against Mardan and Abbottabad was suggested.
“Al-Libi had decided the ideal place to hide Bin Laden would be in a small cantonment, right under the nose of the military, where no-one would suspect”
Al-Kuwaiti had already been selected to provide protection for Bin Laden and play host to him in Pakistan. In fact, it was during his reconnaissance of Abbottabad in 2004 that Al-Libi was almost captured by the ISI. Despite this experience, Al-Libi agreed with Al-Kuwaiti’s assessment and Bin Laden was also convinced of the suitability of this small cantonment as his future “hideout”. Starting from South Waziristan Agency, and entering Pakistan via Kunar in the spring of 2004, Bin Laden was housed through the summer at the house of Al-Kuwaiti’s fatherin-law, in Shangla. Before the advent of winter, he moved to Haripur and, in May 2005, when the Bilal Town house was completed, he moved to Abbottabad. Amal, his youngest wife joined him in Swat and, though they travelled separately, in Haripur also, before moving to Abbottabad.
In 2001, Bin Laden’s family with him in Afghanistan, consisted of Khariah (at that point in time) his eldest wife and her five sons; Shareeja Seeham and her three children (a boy and two girls); Amal and her daughter (she gave birth to four more children: a daughter in South Waziristan Agency, a son in Peshawar, and a daughter and son in Abbottabad); Bin Laden’s daughter Khadeeja (whose husband was on active Al Qaeda duty in Afghanistan — he was killed in a drone strike in 2010) and her four children. Khadeeja died due to some disease in 2002 in South Waziristan Agency. When Bin Laden agreed to move to Abbottabad in 2003, he told Khariah and her sons to return home.
On their way home, they were arrested by Iranian authorities for travelling without valid documents. They remained in Iranian custody till their release in late 2010. He wanted the rest, including his grandchildren, to join him. However, while he travelled from South Waziristan Agency to re-enter Pakistan from Bajaur, the two wives and children moved to Peshawar and, in Bin Laden’s absence, Amal gave birth to her first son, in Peshawar. When Amal and her (now) three children joined Bin Laden in Shangla, Swat, the rest of the family moved to the outskirts of Mardan, from where they moved to Abbottabad. When Arshad Khan (as Al-Kuwaiti was known in Abbottabad) bought land in Bilal Town and started constructing a house, the ISI conducted routine inquiries about the new resident-to-be, but discovered nothing suspicious.
It was not till August 2010 that some suspicions arose in the ISI detachment but by then events were moving too fast. The western media has made much of the house in Bilal Town. Some have called it a “mansion”. Others have referred to its “high boundary walls” and “extraordinary security”; thus implying that there was no way it could have failed to draw attention of the ISI. The truth is very far from it. It had a total of 13 rooms (in all, not excluding drawing rooms/lounges etc.), including three in the guest house/annex, all very small sized ones. Considering that, when Bin Laden was executed, there were 27 people, including children living there. It seems logical to suggest it would have been fairly cramped! The “high boundary walls” ranged in height from 8.5 feet to 13 feet (I measured them and have photographs supporting my view). For Pashtuns, these are low walls.
In neighboring streets, there are houses with boundary walls ranging from 14 to 16 feet in height. And there was no security at all. The boundary walls were topped with loose strands of barbed wire that the veriest child could have pulled free. No high tech security systems; no nothing. When I saw the house, I realized that the inmates were totally reliant on not being discovered because, if they were, the house was indefensible, there were no “escape routes”: it was, in fact, a death trap. We now move fast forward to 2010. The most reliable local witness in Abbottabad is a gentleman called Shamrez. He lives in a little tin-roofed shanty right opposite the gate of Arshad Khan’s house. He is a labourer on daily wages and the only person who has been allowed inside the compound of Arshad Khan’s house.
“When Arshad Khan (as Al-Kuwaiti was known in Abbottabad) bought land in Bilal Town and started constructing a house, the ISI conducted routine inquiries about the new resident-to-be, but discovered nothing suspicious”
However, he has only been allowed to enter the outer compound where the residents grew grain for feeding animals. According to Shamrez, there was nothing noticeable about Arshad Khan and family, except for the fact that they never visited anyone nor did anyone visit them. The sole exception was the arrival of some visitor(s) in summer 2010 in a white Corolla. Shamrez has no idea who he/they were, but they stayed a couple of weeks, maybe more. During their stay, Shamrez was asked to come in for a day’s labour. He inquired from Tariq (Chota Pathan — Arshad’s younger brother) who these visitors were and was told that “they have come to visit our ailing uncle who is staying with us”.
In 2008, an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped by Taliban from the Peshawar Consulate — Atherzadeh. In 2010, his release was under negotiation. Taliban had asked for the return release of Suleman Abu Ghaith, a Yemeni preacher, who shot to fame when, post 9/11, he announced on behalf of Al Qaeda that there would be further attacks on Americans in the US. Almost as an afterthought, the Taliban asked for the release of Khariah and her five sons. The Iranians agreed. Khariah’s eldest son, Hamza was committed to follow his father’s footsteps. He came to Afghanistan, joined Al Qaeda and is now, reportedly, to be found in the Middle East. His four brothers disappeared to parts unknown.
Quite astoundingly, Khariah, the wife whom Bin Laden had packed off in 2003, the only one who was known to be insanely jealous of Amal, his youngest Yemeni wife, insisted on rejoining Bin Laden! From a logical end, this definitely arouses curiosity. Since Al Qaeda was in the process of relocating itself in the Middle East, the highest commander available in this region was the Regional Commander, Attiya Abdur Rahman. According to my sources, when she got to him, she was strip-searched and incarcerated. Attiya refused to send her to Abbottabad until, in February 2011, Bin Laden asked for her to be sent.
Thereafter, very suddenly, everything began to move at a rapid pace. Shakil Afridi — the doctor whose spying eventually paved the way for the capture and killing of the world’s most wanted man — began his fake polio campaign. From Nawanshehr, a housing colony just north of Bilal Town, he shifted focus to Bilal Town and, on April 26 last year, to the house in question. My conclusion is that Bin Laden was sold out by Al Qaeda and the conduit was Khariah. Admittedly this is, in part, speculation. But my speculation is based on logic. The logic is questionable; like all others. All I ask is: read, before questioning.
The writer, a retired brigadier, is a security analyst more famous recently for carrying out his own research into the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.The investigative work due out this month is waited with bated breath for Qadir is the only researcher who had access to part of the official findings