S ince shortly after 9/11, when many members of al Qaeda fled
Afghanistan and crossed the border into Pakistan, we have played
cat and mouse with them. The biggest of them all, Osama bin Laden, is
still at large at the time of this writing, but we have caught many, many
others. Some are known to the world, some are not. We have captured
689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned boun‑
ties totaling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse us of
“not doing enough” in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA
how much prize money it has paid to the government of Pakistan.
Here, I will tell the stories of just a few of the most significant man‑hunts.
Abu Zubeida, a Palestinian national whose real name is Zain-ul-Abideen, was the first high-ranking member of al Qaeda caught after the 9/11 attacks, which he had helped plan. He was the chief recruiter and trainer of al Qaeda operatives. The CIA had offered a $5 million reward for his capture.
After 9/11, Abu Zubeida came to Pakistan but remained elusive by continually moving among thirteen sites in three cities-nine in Faisalabad, one in Karachi, and three in Lahore. Nonetheless, we learned about his movements by catching lower-level operatives and proceeding on human intelligence. All thirteen sites were raided simultaneously by Pakistani intelligence agents supported by our law enforcement agencies, on the night of March 27, 2002. Agents from the CIA assisted in the location of sites through technical intelligence. The mission was successful: Abu Zubeida was caught and arrested along with twenty-seven of his al Qaeda associates, all of them foreigners-thirteen Yemenis, three Saudis, three Libyans, three Palestinians, one Russian, one Moroccan, one Sudanese, and two Syrians, one of whom was killed and the other injured. Abu Zubeida was handed over to the United States on March 30, 2002.
The policy followed by Pakistan on the extradition of foreigners has been first to ask their countries of origin to take them back. If a country of origin refuses (as is normally the case), we hand the prisoner over to the United States.
This was our single biggest catch at that time, not just numerically but in terms of importance. Those were the early days, when al Qaeda operatives were still fleeing from Afghanistan into Pakistan. After Abu Zubeida’s arrest, they thought twice about this and started coming in smaller numbers.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) was the object of our next man-hunt. He was one of the most sought-after terrorists and featured prominently on the FBI’s “most wanted” list. A Kuwaiti-born Iranian national, KSM had most of his schooling in Kuwait and then attended college in North Carolina in 1984. From there he transferred to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was a member of what is known as the “Afghan alumni” terrorist network. Its sole reason for existence was to kill as many Americans as possible, anywhere, anyhow. In 1993 KSM spearheaded the attempt to blow up New York’s World Trade Center, along with his nephew Ramzi Yousef Next, they plotted to blow up about a dozen airliners flying from southeast Asia to the United States on the same day. They also planned to dispatch a suicide pilot to crash into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. This was called the Bojinka Operation. None of these plans materialized, however, because Ramzi Yousef was arrested in Pakistan in 1995 and handed over to the United States, shortly before he could pull off the operation. Other conspirators were arrested too, but KSM managed to get away.
When KSM started his life as a terrorist he was not with al Qaeda; he had his own network. During much of the 1990s, KSM first tried to maintain his operational autonomy and resisted swearing allegiance to any terrorist leader, because he thought of himself as being in the same mold as Osama bin Laden. But after the failure of the Bojinka Operation and the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, he canceled his network and decided to develop closer ties with al Qaeda. He wanted to meet Osama bin Laden in 1996, but bin Laden was too busy moving his own family and organization from Sudan to Afghanistan. However, KSM remained in touch with the al Qaeda leaders Abdul Rehman Muhajir and Abu Aziz Al-Masri in order to develop contacts with key operatives.
Finally, in 1996, after Osama bin Laden had moved back to Afghanistan, KSM met him for the first time in Tora Bora. He told Osama about his role in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the abortive Bojinka Operation. Then KSM presented the idea of 9/11 to Osama bin Laden, but Osama vetoed it, asking KSM to join al Qaeda first. Insisting that he wished to retain his independence, KSM refused.
At the same time, and in order to get money for his operations, KSM developed relations with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and also with Abu Zubeida.
In 1998 or 1999, perhaps persuaded by Abu Hafs Al-Masri-now known to the world by his alias, Mohammad Atef-Osama bin Laden approved the plan for 9/11, though of course at that time the exact date could not have been determined. As soon as KSM learned that Osama was on board, he brought his family from Qatar to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The plan for 9/11 was kept secret between Osama bin Laden, Atef, and KSM. Intelligence sources indicate that by 2000, Mullah Omar probably had a fair idea that large-scale operations on American soil were planned, but he did not know any details. It is also said that he was not happy about it but apparently could do nothing.
Mohammad Atef and Osama bin Laden short-listed the operatives for 9/11 and asked KSM to select the best of them. Al Qaeda’s shoora council, or consultative committee, approved the plan in August 2001. All the main operatives, including Mohammad Atef, NawafAl-Hazmi, and Khalid Al-Mihdhar, were trained and dispatched to the United States by KSM. Two people-Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi and Ammar Al-Balochi (another nephew of KSM)-provided money to KSM and to the hi-ackers from Dubai.