The area is an impervious one between Pakistan and Afghanistan, dotted with natural caves and tunnels dug in the rocks. An area monitored by local tribes that deny access to anyone who approaches, thus protecting the flight from justice of the world’s most wanted man — Usama Bin Ladin. Western intelligence services have localized his latest hideout to Kuram, a small village in Waziristan. They have also traced the support and complicity network that enables the shayhk of terror to move about without risk of being intercepted.
A far-reaching network that can count on the loyalty of the Pakistani qabile, the families that have total control of the territory, and on the military training of the mujaheddin and the Taliban, who are in charge of the personal security of their leaders. There is one basic rule: Bin Ladin never stays in the same place for more than 48 hours.
Analysts are sure that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who is Bin Ladin’s closest collaborator, stayed in that same region for a long time. “But after the offensive unleashed last March by Pakistani security forces in the Wana area,” say intelligence sources, “the two were forced to part company.” Al-Zawahiri was spotted in Afghanistan, in the area lying between Khost and Paktia, “from where he often left on short missions to the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi, where he can count on the protection of a rich Afghan refugee, Anwar Shah Agha, known also to be a money runner for the Islamic guerrillas.”
When he is in the southeastern Afghanistan, the security of Bin Ladin’s deputy “is ensured by the followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (an opponent of the Kabul regime and head of hundreds of militiamen who have sided with Bin Ladin), and also by Taliban mujaheddin who are still rooted in the area.” Experts believe that a region to be monitored is Badakhshan, on the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, “where, in recent weeks, they suspect movement of men believed to be among the most trusted of those in charge of Bin Ladin and al-Zawahiri’s personal safety.” Much more fragmentary is the information gathered on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, to the extent that no credit is given to the possibility of finding him through traces left by his cell phones.
Agreement is believed to have been reached in April. According to information from various sources, the “Shia and Sunni Pakistani families of Waziristan called a council meeting of tribal chief elders, establishing measures to adopt in order to more effectively counter the intelligence activity by local police and Islamabad security services, and thus ensure the necessary cover for Al-Qa’ida leaders and the mujaheddin of various nationalities hiding in the area.”
Operational instructions are alleged to have been given by Islamic militiamen long in charge of ensuring Bin Ladin’s safety. It is they who are believed to have “laid down the area surveillance modalities, and established the routes along which move the convoys that escort the terrorist leaders.” Information gathered by Pakistani intelligence assures that “every gabila is committed to guaranteeing the sacred right of hospitality to the mujaheddin in their area of influence.”
According to intelligence sources, Usama Bin Ladin is protected by three “cordons.” His defense system was identified thanks to information supplied by arrested terrorists who agreed to cooperate. “The Al-Qa’ida leader’s personal security,” according to one of the intelligence reports, “is assured, especially when he is on the move or at times of greater exposure, by an initial “cordon” of Islamic combatants chosen on a rotating basis among the most trusted mujaheddin from Sudan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.” A broader protective buffer is provided by mujaheddin equipped with automatic weapons and rocket launchers, who are in charge of preventive surveillance of the routes used by the shaykh, of sanitizing the areas where he is generally offered hospitality, and of identifying, and possibly neutralizing, hostile elements who may have infiltrated the area. The broadest protective ring, made up of men belonging to the individual families, “is that which thoroughly monitors the territory, signaling well in advance any suspicious movement by the Pakistani security forces.”
Zarif Khan, head of the Mada Khil gabila, has been identified as one of the tribal chiefs most loyal to Bin Ladin. Together with the other “elders,” he is alleged to have organized territory control activities by also “exploiting the traditional familiarity that Pashtun shepherds in the area have with the environment and who have made their knowledge available.” This system makes it possible to “indicate places where the heads of the terrorist network can find refuge, and what routes to ply in order not to be spotted during their frequent comings and goings.” Abdul Qayym Khan, who controls the Bara area, which lies on the border with Afghanistan, has been identified as being one of the “protectors” of the shaykh’s flight from justice.
According to intelligence reports, the task of transporting weapons, men, and equipment from Pakistani cities to the mountain areas has been entrusted to some non-governmental organizations, especially to the Islamic charity organization “Al Rashid Trust,” first included by the United States, and subsequently by the European Union, on a blacklist [preceding word published in English] of societies suspected of financing terrorism and providing support for its world network.
The association, whose main headquarters is in Karachi, is officially involved in humanitarian tasks, such as building ovens in Afghanistan in order to distribute bread to poor families, but also in building mosques. In 2001, the Pakistani government, taking its cue from the United States, managed to “freeze” its funds, even if the organization’s leaders have always denied any type of link with Bin Ladin and his network. “Abdullah al-Zawahiri, son of Usama’s deputy, and Bashir Qandarvi,” Western intelligencers are now saying, “have been placed by the Al-Qa’ida leadership in charge of maintaining contacts with the al-Rashid organization.”
Copyright 2004 by Milan’s Corriere della Sera. All rights reserved.
[FBIS translated text from Milan’s Corriere della Sera in Italian 11 Jul 04]