Did Osama bin Laden make Al Qaeda nuclear-armed?
The terror mastermind was killed by the US deep inside Pakistan on May 2, 2011, nearly ten years after the hunt began.
September 11, 2001. Smoke was billowing out of both towers of the World Trade Center in New York. People were jumping out the windows. There was sheer panic, utter chaos. Two planes crashed into the twin towers. They were no light private aircrafts but two fuel-laden commercial Boeings full of passengers. This could hardly be a mishap. It had to be deliberate. And it turned out to be exactly so. The two aircrafts had been hijacked and made to crash into the twin towers.
Two other aircrafts had also been hijacked. One to hit the Pentagon - the military headquarters of the US, and another went down in a field in Pennsylvania.
It was a day that changed the world, an event that came to be remembered as the 9/11 attacks - the biggest terror attack on the most powerful democracy of the world - the US.
US blamed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden for the gruesome acts on its people, and the poor and innocent people of Afghanistan had to pay the price of this horrible work.
Noted writer Abid Ullah Jan refutes all the allegations made by the US in his book The Genesis of The Final Crusade in which he says that the war on Afghanistan after 9/11 was pre-planned. The author compiled a huge amount of undeniable evidence to prove his point.
On the other hand, Pakistan was made to be a part of this pre-planned “war on terror”. This war on terror was a “war of shadow” for Pakistan as stated in former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf book In The Line of Fire: A Memoir. Musharraf writes on the conversion between him and former US secretary of state Colin Powell: “I was chairing an important meeting at the governor’s house when my military secretary told me that the US secretary of state, General Collin Powell, was on the phone.
I said I would call back later, but he insisted that I come out of the meeting and take the call. Powell was quite candid: ‘You are either with us or against us.’ I took this as a blatant ultimatum. When I was back in Islamabad the next day, our director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) who was in Washington told me over phone about his meeting with the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage.
In what has to be the most undiplomatic statement ever made, Armitage added to what Colin Powell had said to me and told the DG ISI that not only did we have to decide whether we were with America or with the terrorists, but if we chose the terrorists, then we should be prepared to be ‘bombed back to the stone age’. This was a shockingly barefaced threat.”The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan set the stage for the rise of Osama's Al Qaeda network in the late-1980s.
Pakistan was set to become the next Laos and Cambodia because of the imposed war. Corruption, suicide bombings, sectarian clashes, coercion of the minorities, political murders and despotic rulers were soon to become part of the Pakistani society.
Osama is born
Friend to a few and foe to millions, Osama was born in 1957 to a Syrian mother. He was the seventh son among 50 brothers and sisters. His father Mohammad bin Awad bin Laden came to Saudi Arabia from the Hadramawt region in Yemen sometime around 1930. His father started his life as very poor labourer to end up as the owner of one of the biggest construction companies in the Middle East.
Osama’s Afghan jihad
On the night of December 24, 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan and began an occupation of the country that would initiate 20 years of internal conflict and lead to the growing militancy of Islamist groups throughout the world.
The Soviet invasion and occupation would set the stage for the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the establishment of Osama's Al Qaeda network in the late-1980s. The US provided a variety of overt and tacit assistance to the anti-Soviet mujahideen during the occupation.
The Ronald Reagan administration printed millions of textbooks at the University of Nebraska Omaha to support the Afghan jihad.
Once the Soviets withdrew, the US strategic interests in Afghanistan ended and the vacuum created by the detachment of the two superpowers made the way for the emergence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
From the ashes of the mujahideen that were formed to “liberate” Afghanistan from the Soviets, Osama, formed the core elements of what became the Al Qaeda. He joined the mujahideen in Peshawar against the Soviets.
Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian Islamic scholar, who raised funds, recruited and organised the international Islamist volunteer efforts of the Afghan Arabs through the 1980s, was also teacher and mentor of Osama and persuaded him to come to Afghanistan and help him in the jihad against the Soviets. Osama spent most of the first half of the 1980s raising funds for the Afghan jihad and recruiting mujahideen from all over the Muslim world.
When Azzam was assassinated on November 24, 1989, the blame was immediately put on Osama. However, the widow of Azzam (Umm Mohamed) in an interview to Al Jazeera said, “It’s inconceivable that anyone would kill his mentor, when the assassination happened in Peshawar some people came to film the scene of the attack to prove to those who had sent them what they had done. We caught them and took their cameras. One was French, the other Pakistani. The Pakistani told us it was an international organisation that was involved in the assassination and not Osama but the investigation was never carried out.”
Fallout between Saudis and Osama
When the Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan by February 1989, Osama returned to Saudi Arabia. As the experienced leader of the valiant mujahideen, he was treated with respect and helped the Saudi intelligence create the first jihadi group in Yemen, which was seeking to oust the communist regime. Following Iraq's invasion of Iran, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had his eyes on the tiny state of Kuwait. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and occupied the oil fields.
As the Saudi royal family discussed inviting US troops to repel the Iraqis and establish a presence in its country, Osama approached with an alternative plan. He offered his services to build an anti-Saddam Arab coalition and enlist 5,000 mujahideen veterans for defeating the Iraqis.
His proposal got rejected. US troops were invited into the holy kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Osama was humiliated. Osama disliked the very idea of armed non-Muslims even entering the land of the two holy mosques, and expressed his displeasure with the Saudis.
The Saudi royal family assured Osama that the US troops would remain only until the threat receded. However, their failure to honour the pledge to withdraw foreign troops after Kuwait was liberated only reinforced Osama’s betrayal.When he expressed his displeasure publicly at the continuing presence of US troops, which he regarded as a bunch of infidels on Saudi soil, he was sidelined.
Clearly, Osama had now joined the ranks of the Saudi dissidents. He left Saudi Arabia for Pakistan in April 1991 where he launched a campaign against the land of his birth.
Pakistan politics and Osama
In the meantime, Pakistan was in the doldrums with president Zia-ul-Haq’s rule ending with a plane crash. With the jihad against the Soviets over, the tussle between prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s government and the military establishment was increasing day by day. It is still being alleged that Osama supported Nawaz Sharif in a bid to topple the Benazir government.
Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistani intelligence official, in an interview with Al Jazeera narrated that “Nawaz Sharif refuses he ever met Osama or he ever got any support from Osama. This is totally a cover-up of his secret contact with Osama. He was a person who would always ask me where my benefactor is. I would like to salute him. Sometimes it was Osama’s money, sometimes money would come from outside and mostly money would come from governments like Saudi Arabia and UAE to support Nawaz Sharif’s efforts either to remain in power or in getting back country’s most powerful job.”
Sustaining these claims, Ali Moher, Nawaz Sharif’s former translator wrote: “I know this happened because Khalid Khawaja was a common friend of bin Laden and Nawaz Sharif. Khawaja worked for Pakistani intelligence and he was one of the supporters of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. He was in contact with bin Laden. When the Arab fighters in Peshawar were harassed by the Pakistani intelligence during Benazir’s first term, he suggested to bin Laden to support Nawaz Sharif and to topple the Benazir Bhutto’s government.”
Senior Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir said in an interview: “When General Zia was dead, the Pakistani security agencies started arresting them (Arab-Afghan fighters). This was the problem and Sheikh Osama wanted to settle this quandary. He wanted someone to help him. Someone from Nawaz Sharif’s close circles contacted him and said actually its Benazir’s government which is creating problems and if you want solution of your problems, a new government can solve them. So you must support us in toppling her government.”
Osama’s former bodyguard Naseer Al-Bahri wrote: “Sheikh Osama sent a letter congratulating the Pakistani government and Nawaz Sharif after the nuclear tests. He reminded them that this bomb was the Islamic deterrent and they shouldn’t use it in their dispute with India. Instead it should be used to protect Islam.”
Sudan and Osama
In Sudan, Osama built up a business empire by investing in banks and agricultural projects and building a major highway and a number of link roads.
While praising Osama, a resident of Al-Damazin in Sudan, Shoaa Khalafallah, in an interview to Al Arabiya said: “We used to call him Sheikh bin Laden. Many people knew him very well. Everybody wanted to meet him. He treated people with utmost generosity. Everyone was astonished. Poor people used to go to him and he’d give them money. This is what I know about Sheikh bin Laden.”
In 1995, an assassination attempt was made on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Bin Laden and his Egyptian allies were suspected to be behind the attack.
The Sudanese government came under heavy pressure to expel Osama from the country and was at the brink of international sanction had it refused to expel him. So in 1996, Osama returned to Afghanistan.
When the US embassy bombings occurred in 1998 in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), the blame was planted on Osama all over again. The editor-in-chief of News International, Rahimullah Yusufzai, in an interview said: “On August 20, 1998 after the attacks happened on the two embassies, I received a phone call from Ayman al-Zawahiri. He spoke in fluent English and told me that Osama is sitting next to him. As Osama could not communicate in English, so he was sending his regards. Zawahiri told me that bin Laden is denying his involvement and Al Qaeda’s involvement in bombing of US embassies.”
It was after the bombing of the US embassies in eastern Africa that anxiety about Osama started to grow in the US government and public. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) set up a separate Osama unit and offered a reward of millions of dollars wanting Osama dead or alive.
Manhunt of the century
As Powell lamented in his 1995 memoir, A Soldier’s Way, reflecting on the manhunt for Panamanian drug lord Manuel Noriega, “A president has to rally the country behind his policies. And when that policy is war, it is tough to arouse public opinion against political abstractions. A flesh and blood villain serves better.” Beyond the American tendency to personalise conflicts, there are quite a few reasons that manhunts are likely to lure more and more future US policymakers.
There have been a number of rebels from all over the world whom the US has hunted down. Amongst all those personalities, three are worth mentioning: Geronimo (1885-1886); Che Guevara (1967) and Osama (1996-2011).
The US spent billions of dollars on mercenaries, air surveillance, vicious drones, covert operations, modernised weapons and technology and hundreds of thousands of troopers from all over the world to chase one man down.
It took the US over ten years of intense search and surveillance to reach Osama. Various mysteries surround the death of Osama. Late Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, in an interview with Robert Frost on Al Jazeera after returning to Pakistan in 2007 claimed that Osama was murdered by Omar Sheikh who was a close aide to Masood Azhar - the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
Likewise, a number of heads of states from all over world had their own views on the death of Osama. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an interview to ABC news said Osama was living quietly in Washington under the nose of the CIA.
In 2001, it was said that Osama had died of kidney failure. Amir Ali, a Pakistani doctor, in a interview to a Pakistani news channel said, “I had met Osama in November of 2001. He had neither shown any signs of kidney failure nor any signs of dialysis. He was fit and running. He didn’t have any water near or with him while a dialysis patient cannot do without water for a long time.”
Then on May 2, 2011 came the official statement of US president Barack Obama exactly ten years after the search for Osama began that the terror mastermind had been hunted down.
“Tonight I can report to American people and to the world, United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda,” he said. Still a number of mysteries surround this official statement from the US President as well.
Osama’s Abbottabad compound was locally known as Waziristan Haveli. It was an upper class mansion that was used as a safe house in which he was hiding when he was brutally killed by the US elite forces. This mansion was located just 1.3km from the famous Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
On May 2, 2011, a 24-member team of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group arrived by helicopter, breached a wall using explosives, and entered the compound and killed Osama after a brief firefight of nearly 50 minutes. Pakistan demolished the structure in February 2012.
Al Qaeda and nukes
With Osama dead, the most concerning question which remains is that had the Al Qaeda acquired nuclear weapons in his lifetime, or has it done so after his death?
In November 2001, Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir was the last man to interview Osama. In that interview, he claimed that the Al Qaeda had nuclear and chemical weapons. “Bin Laden clearly admitted that yes, we have nuclear (weapons) as deterrence and if Americans use it, then we have every right to respond to it in the same manner. When I asked the same question to him in 1998, he simply ignored the question but this time around, he was confident of using nukes against the US.”
Former bodyguard of Osama, Naseer Al-Bahri said in an interview: “Americans did find some documents in the media centre in Kandahar. They found the copies of training manuals relating to the use of certain gases and toxins. Our brother Abu Khabab focused on poisonous gas. He led training in these things due to his chemistry subject experience. The aim was to acquire a weapon with a devastating and instant effect. Tests were made on dogs and rabbits. Many fighters received training. Abu Khabab operated a secret camp where people were trained. But no one knew who was trained there. They had secret budget. Only Abu Khabab knew who was trained there.”