Contacts between Harakat ul Mujahedin (HUM), a terrorist organization long sponsored by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, and Osama bin Laden’s most trusted courier have been found by American intelligence officials, the New York Times reports. The contacts were discovered on the courier’s cellphone, which was recovered during the raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May.
Citing senior American officials, the Times reports that the “discovery indicates that Bin Laden used” HUM “as part of his support network inside the country.” When American analysts traced the cellphone’s calls, they learned that “Harakat commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials.” One unnamed official “said they had met.”
Officials told the Times that the contacts are “no smoking gun” and do not prove that members of Pakistan’s spy agency protected bin Laden. Still, the find “raised tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support Bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency.”
“In complete contact with each other”
Leaked threat assessments authored by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) contain additional revelations about the relationship between HUM and al Qaeda.
One memo, dated May 28, 2004, summarizes the available intelligence on Mohammed Ilyas, a Pakistani who was then held at Guantanamo. JTF-GTMO had previously recommended that Ilyas be transferred or released, but based on newer information revised its recommendation, advising that Ilyas “be transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.”
Ilyas admitted that he was a member of Jamaat Tablighi (JT), an extremist missionary organization that is often used by al Qaeda terrorists as cover for their operations.
Another Guantanamo detainee, who was identified as an al Qaeda trainee, told US interrogators that he heard Ilyas issue a fatwa calling on JT members “to go to Afghanistan to fight.”
A second of Ilyas’ fellow inmates identified him “as one of the recruiters and leaders at the Mansehra Jihad Training Camp located at Mansehra, Pakistan.” That camp, according to JTF-GTMO’s analysis, “is controlled by the Harakat-ul-Mujahedin al-Alami (HUMA) organization.” HUMA is an offshoot of HUM, but according to multiple press accounts remains in close contact with its mother organization.
The leaked file for Ilyas then includes an analyst’s note, which reads:
Kamran Atif, a terrorist who was recently arrested by the Pakistani Crime Investigation Department (CID) Police revealed that HUMA has links with Al-Qaida and that HUMA and AQ are “in complete contact with each other.”
Atif was arrested in May 2004, less than two weeks prior to the date on JTF-GTMO’s threat assessment for Ilyas. Atif was reportedly arrested for his involvement in an April 2002 plot to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. HUMA positioned a car bomb near Musharraf’s motorcade route in Karachi, but the bomb failed to detonate. According to the BBC, the same car “was then used in a suicide attack on the US consulate in Karachi two months later that killed 12 Pakistanis.”
Ilyas was transferred to Pakistan on Sept. 17, 2004. Before his transfer, JTF-GTMO identified Ilyas as a “high” threat to the US and its allies. Instead of holding him in custody, as JTF-GTMO recommended, Pakistan released him.
Pakistani police detained Ilyas once again, in January 2009. The Pakistanis identified him as the ringleader of “a nine-member gang wanted for multiple bombings, including a deadly attack outside the Danish embassy, and for links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” according to Agence France Presse. An anonymous Pakistani investigator told AFP that Ilyas’ group was “involved in five high-profile suicide attacks.”
In addition to the June 2008 attack on the Danish embassy, Ilyas and his cell were responsible for the March 15, 2008 bombing of the Luna Caprese Italian restaurant in Islamabad. A Tunisian woman was killed and four FBI officials were reportedly wounded in the attack.
Pakistani police reported that Ilyas and his fellow terrorists also assisted in a suicide bombing near Islamabad’s Red Mosque on July 7, 2008. That attack corresponded with the anniversary of the Pakistani government’s siege of the mosque the year before. The suicide bombing killed 19 people, including 18 Pakistani policemen.
Ilyas had ties to senior al Qaeda leaders as well. Senior Pakistani police officers told AFP that Ilyas and his group “had links” to Osama al Kini, al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan. Al Kini was killed in a US missile strike on New Year’s Day 2009. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s operations chief in Pakistan killed in New Year’s strike.]
The JTF-GTMO file on Ilyas is not the only one containing intelligence on the relationship between al Qaeda and HUM. The leaked threat assessment for another former Guantanamo detainee, Bandar Ahmad Mubarak al Jabri, notes that HUM is “a Pakistani extremist group known to help al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan.”
Ties to kidnapping of Daniel Pearl
HUM’s ties to al Qaeda are extensive and longstanding. HUM’s leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, signed Osama bin Laden’s fatwa calling for jihad against the “Crusaders and Zionists” in 1998. During a US air strike on one of bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan that same year, the Times reports, 11 HUM fighters were killed. So were Pakistani military officers who were training jihadists at the camp.
In 2007, Khalil was part of a Pakistani government delegation that negotiated with the terrorists responsible for the siege of the Red Mosque. Even as some heads of the jihadist hydra have turned against the Pakistani state, therefore, others are still willing to serve it. The Times reports that Khalil “lives unbothered by Pakistani authorities on the outskirts of Islamabad.”
HUM’s ties to al Qaeda received more public scrutiny after the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl. The terrorist who ensnared Pearl in the kidnapping plot, Omar Saeed Sheikh, had long worked for HUM, as well as for other jihadist groups and the ISI. [See LWJ report, New investigation into murder of Daniel Pearl released.]
Pearl was held and murdered at a home owned by Saud Memon, an extremist with multiple ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. CBS News reported in 2003 that “several arrested members of Harakat ul-Mujahedeen Al-Almi” identified Memon “as their chief financial backer.”
The leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) refers to Memon as “al Qaeda’s finance chief in Pakistan.”
Although Pearl’s kidnapping was arranged by Pakistani terrorist groups, al Qaeda took control of the operation. KSM has repeatedly admitted that he personally killed Pearl.
It should come as no surprise that Osama bin Laden’s courier had contacts with HUM. Al Qaeda has long maintained operational relationships with various Pakistani-based terror groups.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.