Pakistan releases senior al Qaeda operative

Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan.

As the Taliban fights the Pakistani military in an undeclared insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Pakistani government continues to sue for peace, and in the process, has released a senior al Qaeda operative. Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, an al Qaeda operative and computer expert who “acted as a link between top al-Qaeda leaders and operational cells,” was released from Pakistani custody. Khan was captured in July 2004 in the city of Lahore. An e-mail chain recovered on Khan’s computer allowed Western intelligence agents to capture Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian al Qaeda operative who was involved in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The release of Khan from custody is an ominous sign. The Pakistani government released over 2,500 Taliban, al Qaeda, and associated Pakistani jihadis during the signing of the Waziristan Accord in September 2006. Currently, the government is seeking to revive the North and South Waziristan Accords, which have been negated by Pakistani Taliban commanders. Baitullah Mehsud, the powerful Taliban commander in South Waziristan, called off the South Waziristan Accord over the weekend. The Pakistani government has sent several delegations to negotiate with the Taliban to maintain the North Waziristan Accord.

The government is pressing for negotiations as heated battles between Taliban and government military forces rage throughout North and South Waziristan. In the latest round of fighting, four soldiers were killed in suicide attacks and ambushes in North Waziristan, while military helicopters killed 15 “miscreants” in a strike on a compound. Fifteen Pakistani soldiers remain unaccounted for after being kidnapped in South Waziristan, while one of the soldiers was found beheaded. Over the weekend, the body of a beheaded religious leader was found in South Waziristan. Upwards of 300 police, paramilitary, and regular army soldiers have been killed throughout the Northwest Frontier Province since fighting intensified in mid-July.

Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat.

Recently, 28 of the 29 Taliban and al Qaeda training camps in North and South Waziristan emptied out for reasons as of yet unknown to the Western intelligence community.

The Taliban, meanwhile, continue to grow in strength across the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government seeks to negotiate a deal with the Taliban in Darra Adamkhel. The Taliban are on a rampage “to eliminate social evils from society after the local administration and jirga system have failed on this front.” As they keep the paramilitary forces pinned down at checkpoints, the Taliban hunt and kill “criminals” in the settled district.

Pakistan has also cut deals with the Taliban in the Bajaur agency, while the Taliban have de facto control over Bannu and Tank, and maintain a strong influence in the remaining tribal agencies and settled districts throughout the Northwest Frontier Province.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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13 Comments

  • Solomon2 says:

    Maybe Mushy is our buddy, but has anointed the Talibs to be his successor.

  • Jimbo says:

    This is really bad..

  • thanos says:

    I’m thinking this was the trade for the fifteen soldiers freed.

  • someguy says:

    And Pakistan continues to play both sides…

  • templar knight says:

    I’m not much of an expert, but I am not completely surprised by these developments. This is a very, very dangerous trend.
    At some point, the US will be forced to deal with the Taliban/AQ alliance in the NWFP. The fact that the authorities in Islamabad have turned over the NWFP to the Taliban/AQ might play out in two ways.
    The central government might say they have no local control in the NWFP in order to cover their lack of response to a US attack, or the Taliban is so powerful militarily and has so many supporters in the Pakistani military that Musharraf literally has no other choice.
    Either way, the nukes might get loose and might find hands willing to use them, and no one really wants to comprehend that possibility.

  • Dave says:

    I’m sure India is watching too. If the Pakistani Army can’t take care of the Taliban and al Qaeda, India could get some ideas.

  • GK says:

    Why don’t we have an arrangement where, while in custody, Pakistan plants him with a bug (unbeknownst to him), so that we can track his movements after release?
    Failing that, why can’t we just quitely kill him via snipers after the release?

  • GK says:

    “I’m sure India is watching too. If the Pakistani Army can’t take care of the Taliban and al Qaeda, India could get some ideas. ”
    No. India is not this visionary.

  • TouchStone says:

    I can’t help but notice that while Mussharaff is cutting deals with some al-Qaida, he’s catching more hell from some of the Taliban.
    Then there’s the beheaded “religious leader”.
    I have to wonder if it isn’t a double-blind set up. Mussharaff is no dummy, and when all that is combined with the overtures to Bhuto after the attack on the Red Mosque, it looks like a political play.
    He makes nice with the enemy, gets shafted by ’em with more attacks on civilians and the military…could be a play to gather the political power to finally go in and clean things up in Waziristan….
    Sounds like a long-shot, I know, but politics there is a lot more Macchiavellian than here.

  • If Alqeada wanted this man released for the 15 soldiers, then he is terribly important for their FUTURE COMPUTER operations.
    We find in India also the fundementalists are targetting young Muslim youth with anti/american propaganda. Glascow bomber was also an expert programmer.

  • Matt says:

    GK,
    “India is not this visionary.”
    What is your basis for this statement? I’ve read and heard that India’s intel services are among the world’s best. Given that India has some experience with terrorists, [(1)Kashmir, (2) the Dec 2001 attack on the Indian parliament], Dave’s comment doesn’t really strike me as “visionary”.
    While this news — on its face — is troubling, I suppose its possible that he was let go so our covert guys could track him. Probable? Hard to say, but let’s hope so.

  • I wonder what could be done to strengthen Musharraf’s hand to deal with these terrorists. Pakistan already has so many problems. I guess we should see the glass as half full rather than half empty and look at how they do at least try to kill Al Qaeda where they can.
    -stuart

  • davidp says:

    I agree with some commentators on Metroblogging Islamabad that the releases are a result of Pakistan’s government failing to apply the rule of law to these prisoners. They imprisoned without trial and without law and made people disappear. Good government would have organised laws allowing them to hold these prisoners legally, rather than being military thugs.

    On the other hand today’s editorial in the Pakistan “The News” ignores the refusal to fight in the tribal over the last few and says “Friday’s deadly suicide attacks on the same army convoy twice in North Waziristan … show that … one needs to ponder over the fact whether a military solution will ever get rid of the problem.” Since Pakistan has failed to actually try a military solution, this seems like surrenderism worthy of U.S. newspapers.

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