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9/11: The Pakistan connection

August 06, 2003

On July 31, 2003, Mr John S Pistole, Deputy Assistant Director, Counter-terrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified before the US Senate Committee on Government Affairs on 'Terrorism Financing: Origination, Organisation and Prevention'. One of the key findings he referred to was the link between the terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks and Pakistan. Though Mr Pistole chose not to divulge too many details of the FBI investigations, his conclusions were revealing.

"A continuing investigation," said Mr Pistole, "in coordination with the PENTTBOMB Team has traced the origin of the funding of 9/11 back to financial accounts in Pakistan where high-ranking and well-known Al Qaeda operatives played a major role in moving the money forward, eventually into the hands of the hijackers located in the US ... The financial investigation also provided the first links between Ramzi Binalshibh and the 9/11operations."

As expected, the FBI testimony provoked media speculation across the globe, especially in India where it was widely believed that terrorist elements within Pakistan, in collaboration with the ISI and the Pakistani Army, were deeply involved in 9/11 attacks. Interestingly, these facts were known to the American and Indian intelligence agencies long before the FBI or the Senate investigations into 9/11 could even begin. The Pioneer had traced several of these links in early 2002, working solely on the information available in the public domain.

Following the links more closely, I had discovered several connections that existed between the 9/11 operatives and Pakistan, which was developed into a report for the Observer Research Foundation in December last. This report, soon to be released, detailed the movements of three individuals closely involved in planning the terrorist attack on the US.

Said Bahaji, a German of Moroccan origin, was one of them. He flew into Karachi's Qaid-e-Azam International Airport on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul a week before September 11, 2001. There were four other men with him. Three of them took up a room (No 318) at Hotel Embassy. The two others stayed at a house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, a posh colony in Karachi. One of them was Ramzi Binalshibh, a key figure in the entire 9/11 plot.

Bahaji and his room-mates checked out of the hotel the next day, after the former had called a Hamburg number and e-mailed a note to his 21-year old wife, Nese, in Hamburg. Bahaji took a Pakistan Airlines flight to Quetta and, since then, has been on the Most Wanted List of the CIA and FBI. Bahaji was one of the anonymous warriors of the Al Qaeda. Twenty six-year-old Bahaji was fluent in four languages, had been in the German Army for a year and pursued a course in Computer Science at Hamburg's Technical University. He was a close associate of Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 pack of hijackers. Bahaji was one of the coordinators, facilitating false ID papers, cash, visas and transport. He networked with other Al Qaeda cells across the world to finetune the operations.

Though the CIA and the FBI have given much weight to the Al Qaeda's secret meeting at a condominium outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where, it is said, the final plans for the hijack attack were formulated, not much attention has been paid to the meeting at Hotel Embassy in Karachi a week before the attack. It was, in all probability, a meeting to tie up loose ends before the countdown to the attack, especially after the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker who was caught on suspicion on August 16, 2001, by the US authorities.

Moussaoui was one of the key planners of 9/11. What is intriguing is the identity of the people who checked into Hotel Embassy with Bahaji. According to the German authorities, Bahaji's three companions were Mohammad Sarwar Joia alias Patrick Joia, Abdellah Hosayni and Ammar Moula. These were fake identities. While there is information that Patrick left Karachi within a month of 9/11, Hosayni and Moula disappeared into Karachi.

Hotel Embassy had another mysterious guest during the same time Bahaji and his friends were in: An Algerian identified as Mohammed Belfatmi who too had come from Istanbul. He stayed at a room below Bahaji's and checked out soon after Bahaji and his room-mates left the hotel. Belfatmi is yet to be caught.

On September 11, 2001, a few hours before the World Trade Centre twin towers were attacked in New York, one Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi landed in Karachi. A Saudi national, Hawsawi was the finance manager of the 9/11 operations. There is clear evidence that he moved several thousand dollars from a Standard Chartered Bank account in the UAE to Florida's SunTrust account operated by Atta and others. Working from Dubai, he had couriered ATM and credit cards to Atta and his group in the US for paying for flight training schools, buying simulators and equipment like the Global Positioning System, and for booking tickets on flights taking off from various destinations on September 11.

One man who coordinated all these activities from Karachi was Ramzi Binalshibh. Ramzi was a close associate of Atta and Bahaji and coordinated financial transactions with Hawsawi. A nephew of Khaled Mohammed Sheikh (one of the operations managers of the Al Qaeda who first conceived the idea of hijacking aircraft and dive-bombing them into tall buildings), he was a member of Atta's Hamburg cell and the only one to attend the meetings at Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 and Spain in July 2001. It was originally planned Ramzi would be a part of the Atta team, but he could not get a visa to enter the US. His visa application was rejected four times. Ramzi was then designated as coordinator and sent to Karachi, where he activated a dormant Al Qaeda cell with the help of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other sectarian and terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.

This Karachi cell had two primary objectives: To coordinate the September 11 attack and to figure out an escape plan after it. Besides coordinating the pre-9/11 activities involving Bahaji and his room-mates, (Atta and others too had passed through Karachi in December 1999 en route to training camps in Afghanistan), the Karachi cell was busy finding sources of funds for the operations. One of the fund raisers was Syed Omar Sheikh, the main accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case and one of the figureheads in the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the banned terrorist organisation responsible for several terrorist attacks in Kashmir and other areas in India.

Sheikh used his contact in India, Aftab Ansari, a don from Mumbai, to collect funds. Ansari used his henchman, Asif Reza Khan, to kidnap a Kolkata tycoon, Partho Pratim Burman, who paid several crores for his release. From that booty, about $ 100,000 was wired to Atta. Atta returned $ 15,600 through hawala channels a few days before he dive-bombed the WTC towers in Manhattan. The money was wired to a bank in Karachi, from where it was withdrawn through three ATM withdrawals within two days of the attack. The person who withdrew the money was Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.

Could these operations have been carried out without the knowledge of the omnipresent ISI, which surely must have kept its chief informed about the activities? Certainly, the answer is no. Simply because all the above links were drawn from news reports in the Pakistani media. It would, therefore, be naive to believe that the ISI and President Pervez Musharraf were not aware of the activities of the 9/11 plotters in Pakistan, and this is what the FBI and the CIA would not like to divulge. At least for the moment.


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