x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Analyst: bin Laden betrayed by Al Qaeda

When he was killed, Osama bin Laden was an ailing, delusional and irrelevant figure, a new report contends.

Within two years of the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden was an ailing, delusional and irrelevant figure who had been shuffled out of Al Qaeda's leadership and was eventually sold out to the Americans by the organisation.

That is the controversial report compiled by Shaukat Qadir, a columnist for The National and a former Pakistan military officer, who said he got much of the information from the highest levels in Pakistan's military and intelligence services. He also visited the compound and tribal areas where bin Laden had stayed.

That allowed Brig Qadir to construct his independent version of events that is sharply at odds with the American one.

Bin Laden was killed last May by a US Navy Seal team that raided the compound in Abbottabad where he had been in hiding since 2005. The Americans say they traced bin Laden's whereabouts through a trusted courier.

The Americans say they then launched the raid from their airbases in Afghanistan without the involvement or knowledge of Pakistan authorities.

However Brig Qadir, now a security analyst, said he believes bin Laden was sold out to the Americans by members of Al Qaeda, who needed a share of the US$25 million bounty to continue operating.

"I have reached the conclusion that [bin Laden] was set up for the hit. Al Qaeda finally decided that he was too much of a problem and that this dying ghost of a human being was better finally buried," he wrote in his report.

Although he was assisted by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, he insists his report is independent and not sponsored by ISI.

Brig Qadir said that in August 2003, bin Laden was in hiding in Afghanistan's Nangahar Province, a predominantly Pashtun area near the border with Pakistan.

"Osama bin Laden had been rapidly and visibly ailing physically and mentally for over a year."

He was allowing Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's number two, to run the day-to-day affairs.

Bin Laden "seemed content to permit Zawahiri considerable liberty of action, but when it came to planning major operations, [bin Laden] insisted on being present and, frequently disrupted everything by coming up with fantasies."

The report said bin Laden even wanted "to attack and capture Pakistan's nuclear [weapons grade plutonium] facility at Kahuta!

"The consensus view of the Al Qaeda Shoora [high council] was that [bin Laden] had to be 'retired'. Nobody [then] wanted him dead; he was, after all, the founder and his name still raised donations from rich Arabs. The question was how."

While paying lip service to bin Laden's plan to attack Kahuta, they arranged for him to be housed somewhere safe. In truth, he was effectively sidelined from any part in his former organisation.

Al Qaeda bought the compound in Abbottabad and built a 13-bedroom home. Bin Laden, along with some of his wives, children, grandchildren and his courier, Arshad Khan, moved in around June 2005. Despite the nearby presence of the Pakistan Military Academy, the area was not Pashtun and not closely monitored by the intelligence agencies.

Brig Qadir said that Khan had come to the attention of the ISI in 2007 because they had questions about his claim of being a money changer. But his link to bin Laden was not recognised immediately.

Brig Qadir quoted an ISI Counter Terrorism Wing officer who liaised with the CIA as saying: "Over time, by around 2007/8 it began to seem that [bin Laden] had become irrelevant even to CIA. From about 2008 onwards, there was almost no mention of [bin Laden] by the CIA." The Americans did not appear to be even looking for him. Brig Qadir said he believed that instead of following Khan, bin Laden's location was either revealed to the Americans by Al Qaeda itself, or the Americans had been tipped off to follow another of bin Laden's wives, Khairee, who moved to the compound in early 2011 after being released from custody in Iran.

He postulated that the Americans' decision to act alone was because of a combination of not wanting to share the glory of killing bin Laden, of wanting to make sure he was killed and not captured, and to undermine and embarrass the Pakistan military.

 

jhenzell@thenational.ae