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Cellphone offers clues about al-Qaeda’s links with ISI: NYT

Posted by on June 25, 2011 0 Comment

Pakistan may be on the denial mode over the involvement of ISI in sheltering Osama bin Laden , but the cellphone of al-Qaeda leader’s trusted courier, recovered in the US raid on the Abbottabad compound, contained contacts to terror group Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), a longtime asset of Pakistan’s semi-rogue spy agency.

“It also raised tantalising questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harakat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years,” The New York Times reported quoting officials and analysts.

“It’s a serious lead,” said one American official, who has been briefed in broad terms on the cellphone analysis. “It’s an avenue we’re investigating.” The daily said the revelation also provides a potentially critical piece of the puzzle about bin Laden’s secret odyssey after he slipped away from American forces in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago.

Harakat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI”, said Bruce O Riedel, a former CIA officer. The records reportedly show the Harakat had called intelligence officials but it cannot be determined whether these calls were in connection with bin Laden. Harakat leaders have strong ties with both al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence, and they can roam widely because they are Pakistanis, something the foreigners who make up al-Qaeda’s ranks cannot do.

Harakat has especially deep roots in the area around Abbottabad, and the network provided by the group would have enhanced bin Laden’s ability to live and function in Pakistan, analysts familiar with the group told NYT.

The report said that HUM leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, one of bin Laden’s closest Pakistani associates, lives unbothered by Pakistani authorities on the outskirts of Islamabad. The senior American officials did not name the commanders whose numbers were in the courier’s cellphone but said that the militants were in South Waziristan, where al-Qaeda and other groups had been based for years.

Harakat’s network would have allowed bin Laden to pass on instructions to Qaeda members there and in other parts of Pakistan’s tribal areas, to deliver messages and money or even to take care of personnel matters, analysts and officials told NYT. Economic Times

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