Chicago Tribune : Rockford man gets 35 years in plot to attack mall

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rockford man gets 35 years in plot to attack mall

Associated Press | September 30, 2008

CHICAGO - A 24-year-old Rockford man who admired Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for plotting to blow off hand grenades in a crowded shopping mall during the Christmas season.

Derrick Shareef must serve 30 of those years -- with five off for good behavior -- unless he can get an appeals court to reduce the sentence.

Federal Judge David Coar said Tuesday he didn't believe Shareef was evil. But he said people could have been severely hurt if federal agents hadn't broken up the plot.

Shareef described himself as a devout Muslim who once believed bin Laden was a scholar but has now realized violence is wrong.

NYT : Evidence Points to Civilian Toll in Afghan Raid

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Evidence Points to Civilian Toll in Afghan Raid

By CARLOTTA GALL | September 8, 2008

AZIZABAD, Afghanistan — To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support. But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the American military investigation in light of “emerging evidence.”

“The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth,” he said in a statement.

The military investigation drew on what military officials called convincing technical evidence documenting a far smaller number of graves than the villagers had reported, as well as a thorough sweep of this small western hamlet, a building-by-building search a few hours after the airstrikes, and a return visit on Aug. 26, which villagers insist never occurred.

The repercussions of the airstrikes have consumed both the Afghan government and the American military, wearing the patience of Afghans at all levels after repeated cases of civilian casualties over the last six years and threatening to erode their tolerance for the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad on Thursday to pay his respects to the mourners, condemning the strikes, and vowing to arrest an Afghan he says misled American forces with false intelligence.

President Bush expressed his regrets and sympathy in a call to Mr. Karzai on Wednesday. And General McKiernan has issued several statements voicing sorrow for civilian casualties.

The Afghan government is demanding changes in the accords defining the United States military engagement in Afghanistan, in particular ending American military raids on villages and halting the detention of Afghan citizens.

“People are sick of hearing there is another case of civilian casualties,” one presidential aide said.

Differing Accounts

The accounts of the airstrike’s aftermath given by Afghans and Americans could not be further apart.

A visitor to the village and to three graveyards within its limits on Aug. 31 counted 42 freshly dug graves. Thirteen of the graves were so small they could hold only children; another 13 were marked with stones in the way that Afghans identify women’s graves.

Villagers questioned separately identified relatives in the graves; their names matched the accounts given by elders of the village of those who died in each of eight bomb-damaged houses and where they were buried. They were quite specific about who was killed in the airstrikes and did not count those who died for other reasons; one of the fresh graves, they said, belonged to a man who was killed when villagers demonstrated against the Afghan Army on Aug. 23.

At the battle scene, shell craters dotted the courtyards and shrapnel had gouged holes in the walls. Rooms had collapsed and mud bricks and torn clothing lay in uneven mounds where people had been digging. In two places blood was splattered on a ceiling and a wall. An old woman pushed forward with a cauldron full of jagged metal bomb fragments, and a youth presented cellphone video he said was shot on the day of the bombing; there was no time stamp.

The smell of bodies lingered in one compound, causing villagers to start digging with spades. They found the body of a baby, caked in dust, in the corner of a bombed-out room.

Cellphone images that a villager said that he shot, and seen by this reporter, showed two lines of about 20 bodies each laid out in the mosque, with the sounds of loud sobbing and villagers’ cries in the background.

An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village said he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children and some of them his own patients, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike. The doctor, who works for a reputable nongovernmental organization here, at first gave his name but then asked that it be withheld because he feared retribution from Afghans feeding intelligence to the Americans.

The United States military, in a series of statements about the operation, has accused the villagers of spreading Taliban propaganda. Speaking on condition that their names not be used, some military officials have suggested that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites — and, by implication, that other investigators had been duped. But many villagers have connections to the Afghan police, NATO or the Americans through reconstruction projects, and they say they oppose the Taliban.

The district chief of Shindand, Lal Muhammad Umarzai, 45, said he personally counted 76 bodies that day, and he believed that more bodies were unearthed over the next two days, bringing the total to more than 90. Mr. Umarzai has been praised for bringing security to the district in the three months since his appointment and is on good terms with American and NATO forces in the region.

American military investigators said that they had interviewed him and that he had told them that he had no access to the village. But Mr. Umarzai said Taliban supporters came into the village in midmorning after the airstrikes, forcing him and the police to leave the village, but that later he was able to return and attend the burials.

The United Nations issued a statement pointing to evidence it considered conclusive that about 90 civilians were killed, some 75 of them women and children. Villagers and relatives said that the bodies were scattered in different locations; many of the victims were visiting Azizabad for a family memorial ceremony, and their relatives took their bodies back to their home villages for burial. This reporter did not visit the other villages but was given a detailed list of names and places where the remaining victims were buried.

Accounts from survivors, including three people wounded in the bombing, described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents and uncles and aunts huddled inside with them. Most of the village families were asleep when the shooting broke out, some sleeping out under mosquito nets in the yards of their houses, some inside the small domed rooms of their houses, lying close together on the floor, with up to 10 or 20 people in a room.

“I woke up when I heard shooting,” Zainab, a 26-year-old woman who doctors said was wounded in the attack, said in an interview in the Herat city hospital. “The shooting was very close to our house. We just stayed where we were because it was dangerous to go out. When the bombardment started there was smoke everywhere and we lay down to protect ourselves.”

Yakhakhan, 51, one of several men in the village working for a private security firm, and who uses just one name, said he heard shooting and was just coming out of his house when he saw his neighbor’s sons running.

“They were killed right here; they were 10 and 7 years old,” he said. In the compound next to his, he said, four entire families, including those of his two brothers, were killed. “They bombard us, they hate us, they kill us,” he said of the Americans. “God will punish them.”

A policeman, Abdul Hakim, whose four children were killed and whose wife was paralyzed, said she had told him how an Afghan informer accompanying the American Special Operations forces had entered the compound after the bombardment and shot dead her brother, Reza Khan; her father; and an uncle as they were trying to help her. She said she had heard her father plead for help and ask the Afghan: “Are you a Muslim? Why are you doing this to us?” Then she heard shots, and her father did not speak after that, he said.

A United States military spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, said in an e-mail message that she was unaware of such an allegation, and that the American military did not have Afghan civilian informers accompanying its forces during the mission. Soldiers treated wounded people at the scene, which indicated that the Laws of Armed Conflict were followed, she said.

No Taliban, Villagers Say

While the American forces reported they had come under fire upon entering the village, it is not clear from whom. The villagers and the relatives of some of the people killed in the raid insisted that none of them were Taliban and that there were no Taliban present in the village. Eight of the men killed were security guards supplied by Reza Khan to a private American security company and did possess weapons, said Gul Ahmed Khan, Reza Khan’s brother. Two other security guards and three members of the local Afghan police were detained by United States forces during the raid. Four of them were released a week later.

The Khan brothers are from the most prominent family in the village and were hosting the memorial ceremony for their brother, Taimoor Shah, who was killed in a business dispute a year ago. They had cards issued by an American Special Forces officer that designated each of them as a “coordinator for the U.S.S.F.” Another brother, Haji Abdul Rashid, blamed a business rival for falsely telling the Americans that their family supported the Taliban.

American military officials in Afghanistan and Washington have stood by their much lower body count. Capt. Christian Patterson, an American military spokesman at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, said that an investigating officer, a Special Forces major, visited the village after the airstrikes. Guided by aerial photographs, he visited six burial sites within a six-mile range of the attack; only one had any freshly dug graves, about 18 to 20 in total, Captain Patterson said. The 12-page investigative report does not indicate whether they were the graves of children or women. The officer did not interview villagers, he said.

Mr. Khan, whose house is just yards from the main graveyard, which contains 24 fresh graves, said no members of the American military had entered the village since Aug. 22. Villagers living around the graveyards would have seen them, he said.

The American military also said that it had found only two wounded people, a woman and a child, at the scene, and that in a survey of clinics, doctors and hospitals of the area it had found no other wounded.

U.S. Defends Operation

In a series of statements about the operation, the American military has said that extremists who entered the village after the bombardment encouraged villagers to change their story and inflate the number of dead. Yet the Afghan government and the United Nation have stood by the victims’ families and their accounts, not least because many of the families work for the Afghan government or reconstruction projects. The villagers say they oppose the Taliban and would not let them in the village.

“You can see our I.D. cards,” said a police officer, Muhammad Alam, 35, who was accused by the Americans of being a Taliban supporter and was detained for a week after the airstrikes, then released. “If the Taliban caught me, they would slaughter me.”

Two families in the village have lost men serving in the police during recent Taliban attacks. Reza Khan, whose house was the main target of the Special Operations Forces operation, and who was shot dead in the episode, was a wealthy businessman with construction and security contracts with the nearby American base at Shindand airport, and with a cellphone business in the town of Herat. A recent photo of him shows a clean-shaven, slightly portly man in a suit and tie — far from the typical look of a Taliban militant.

His brother, Haji Rashid, said the American forces “should question the people who gave them the wrong information.”

“We want them brought to trial and punished for what they have done,” he added.

His claim was supported by the district chief, Mr. Umarzai, who said, “The victims did not fire on the Americans.” He said he suspected that an informer falsely told the American forces that Taliban fighters were in the village and also staged the firefight. The gunmen first fired on the police checkpoint on the edge of the village that night, he said. “When the Americans came, they laid down heavy gunfire and then they left the area. Then the Americans called in airstrikes,” he said.

Villagers also challenged the American military’s claims that it successfully conducted its planned operation against a Taliban commander, Mullah Sadiq, and a group of his men.

A man claiming to be Mullah Sadiq called Radio Liberty several days after the raid and declared that he was alive and well and was never in the village of Azizabad that night. Reporters at the radio station, who asked not to be identified, said they knew his voice well and double checked the recording with residents of Shindand and they were sure the caller was Mullah Sadiq.

American military officials have said that the man who called the radio program was an imposter and that they are confident they killed their target.

A senior American officer who has been briefed on the military investigation’s findings said in an e-mail message: “I will simply say that the soldiers — U.S. and Afghan — reported what they saw and found at each building site as they looked for material, weapons, bodies. I cannot explain why later the numbers are so far apart.”

Members of the Afghan government investigation commission said that the Americans were just covering up the truth. “The Americans are guilty in this incident: it is much better for them to confess the reality rather than hiding the truth,” said Abdul Salam Qazizada, a member of Parliament and the government commission from Herat Province, where the village is located.

Villagers suggested that the soldiers just counted those who died in the open and did not try to dig under the rubble. A local journalist, Reza Shir Mohammadi, said that when he visited the village on the second day after the attack, women and children were still weeping at one collapsed house, saying they still had not found their mother and siblings.

The operation in Azizabad once again raises questions for the military about whether it is worth pursuing members of the Taliban with airstrikes inside a densely populated village where civilian casualties and property damage can be so high. A similar raid in the same district by American Special Forces in April 2007, which killed 57 people, led American and NATO commanders to tighten rules on calling in airstrikes on village houses.

“This is not fair to kill 90 people for one Mullah Sadiq,” said Mr. Umarzai, the district chief. “If they continue like this, they will lose the people’s confidence in the government and the coalition forces.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Sangar Rahimi and Abdul Waheed Wafa from Afghanistan.

NYT : House Rejects Bailout Package, 228-205; Stocks Plunge

Monday, September 29, 2008

House Rejects Bailout Package, 228-205; Stocks Plunge

By CARL HULSE and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN | September 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — In a moment of historic import in the Capitol and on Wall Street, the House of Representatives voted on Monday to reject a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry. The vote came in stunning defiance of President Bush and Congressional leaders of both parties, who said the bailout was needed to prevent a widespread financial collapse.

The vote against the measure was 228 to 205, with 133 Republicans turning against President Bush to join 95 Democrats in opposition. The bill was backed by 140 Democrats and 65 Republicans.

Supporters vowed to try to bring the rescue package up again as soon as possible, perhaps late Wednesday or Thursday, but there were no definite plans to do so. A former Treasury Department official predicted that the administration would try to get another House vote before the end of the week, and with only “tiny tweaks” to the package, given the relative closeness of the vote.

Stock markets plunged as it appeared that the measure would go down to defeat, and kept slumping into the afternoon when that appearance became a reality. By late afternoon the Dow industrials had fallen more than 5 percent, and other indexes even more sharply. Oil prices fell steeply on fears of a global recession; investors bid up prices of Treasury securities and gold in a flight to safety.

The vote was a catastrophic political defeat for President Bush, who tried to muster national support for a recovery plan in a televised address last Wednesday, then lobbied wavering Republican legislators in intensely personal telephone calls on Monday morning.

“We put forth a plan that was big because we got a big problem,” the president said afterward. “And we’ll be working with members of Congress, leaders of Congress on the way forward. Our strategy is to continue to address this economic situation head on.”

The president was described as “very disappointed” by a spokesman, Tony Fratto. Mr. Bush’s disappointment may have been deepened by the fact that members of his own party voted against the package by more than 2 to 1.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., appearing at the White House late Monday afternoon, warned that the failure of the rescue plan could dry up credit for businesses big and small, making them unable to make payrolls or buy inventory. Vowing to continue working with Congress to revive the rescue plan, Mr. Paulson said it was “much too important to simply let fail.”

Supporters of the bill had argued that it was necessary to avoid a collapse of the economic system, a calamity that would drag down not just Wall Street investment houses but possibly the savings and portfolios of millions of Americans. Moreover, supporters argued, a lingering crisis in America could choke off business and consumer loans to a degree that could prompt bank failures in Europe and slow down the global economy.

Opponents said the bill was cobbled together in too much haste and might amount to throwing good money from taxpayers after bad investments from Wall Street gamblers.

House leaders pushing for the package kept the voting period open for some 40 minutes past the allotted time at mid-day, trying to convert “no” votes by pointing to damage being done to the markets, but to no avail.

The former Treasury Department official who predicted another House vote this week said that before there could be another vote, he would expect Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican minority leader, to approach members with seats in safe districts and tell them, in effect: “You’ve got to do this. The fate of the country hangs on your vote.”

On the other hand, the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was not sure what adjustments would satisfy the Republican lawmakers who voted against the package, given that the Republicans had already succeeded in tacking government insurance on to the bill, and that other items on their list of proposals, like a suspension of the capital gains tax, are non-starters.

The United States Chamber of Commerce vowed to exert pressure, warning in a letter to members of Congress that it would keep track of who votes how. “Make no mistake,” the letter said. “When the aftermath of Congressional inaction becomes clear, Americans will not tolerate those who stood by and let the calamity happen.”

Secretary Paulson, in promising to continue working with Congressional leaders to win passage of a rescue plan, alluded to remedial steps that the Treasury and Federal Reserve could take on their own, like lowering short-term interest rates. “Our tool kit is substantial,” he said, “but insufficient.”

Immediately after the vote, many House members appeared stunned. Some Republicans blamed Ms. Pelosi for a speech before the vote that disdained President Bush’s economic policies, and did so, in the opinion of the speaker’s critics, in too partisan a way.

“Clearly, there was something lacking in the leadership here,” said Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia.

Democrats, meanwhile, blamed the Republicans for not coming up with enough support for the measure on their side of the aisle.

Members of both parties, doing a quick political post-mortem, said those who voted no had encountered too much hostility for the bill among their constituents, and were worried that a vote in favor would be political suicide.

The Senate had been expected to vote later in the week if the bill had cleared the House on Monday. Senate vote-counters had predicted that there was enough support in the chamber for the measure to pass. But the stunning vote in the House, coupled with the Jewish holidays, made it difficult to predict when other votes might be held. Many House members who voted for the bill held their noses, figuratively speaking, as they did so.

Mr. Boehner, the Republican minority leader, called the measure “a mud sandwich” at one point, but he said that there was too much at stake not to support it. He urged members to reflect on the damage that a defeat of the measure could mean “to your friends, your neighbors, your constituents” as they might watch their retirement savings “shrivel up to zero.”

And Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who as Democratic majority leader often clashes with Mr. Boehner, said that on this “day of consequence for America” he and Mr. Boehner “speak with one voice” in pleading for passage.

When it comes to America’s economy, Mr. Hoyer said, “none of us is an island.”

The House vote came after a weekend of tense negotiations produced a rescue plan that Congressional leaders said was greatly strengthened by new taxpayer safeguards. “If we defeat this bill today, it will be a very bad day for the financial sector of the economy,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Financial Services Committee. Earlier Monday, President Bush urged Congress to act quickly. Calling the rescue bill “bold,” Mr. Bush praised lawmakers “from both sides of the aisle” for reaching agreement, and said it would “help keep the crisis in our financial system from spreading throughout our economy.”

After long favoring a hands-off approach and deregulation of the financial industry, the Bush administration has found itself in recent weeks interceding repeatedly in the private market to try to avert one calamity after another.

Even before the House vote, European and Asian stock markets declined sharply on Monday, especially in countries where major banks have had significant problems with mortgage investments, like Britain and Ireland. In the credit markets, investors once again bid up prices of Treasury securities and shunned more risky debt.

Early in the House debate, Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said he intended to vote against the package, which he said would put the nation on “the slippery slope to socialism.” He said that he was afraid that it ultimately would not work, leaving the taxpayers responsible for “the mother of all debt.”

Another Texas Republican, John Culberson, spoke scathingly about the unbridled power he said the bill would hand over to the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., whom he called “King Henry.”

A third Texan, Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, said the negotiators had “never seriously considered any alternative” to the administration’s plan, and had only barely modified what they were given. He criticized the plan for handing over sweeping new powers to an administration that he said was to blame for allowing the crisis to develop in the first place.

The administration accepted limits on executive pay and tougher oversight; Democrats sacrificed a push to allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages. But Republicans fell short in their effort to require that the federal government insure, rather than buy, the bad debt.

The final version of the bill included a deal-sealing plan for eventually recouping losses; if the Treasury program to purchase and resell troubled mortgage-backed securities has lost money after five years, the president must submit a plan to Congress to recover those losses from the financial industry.

Presumably that plan would involve new fees or taxes, perhaps on securities transactions.

The deal would also restrict gold-plated farewells for executives of companies that sell devalued assets to the Treasury Department. But by mid-afternoon on Monday, no one could safely predict whether the provisions in the 110-page bill were strictly academic.

“The legislation has failed,” Speaker Pelosi said at a news conference after the vote. “The crisis has not gone away. We must continue to work in a bipartisan manner.”

Reporting was contributed by David Stout and Robert Pear from Washington,
Keith Bradsher from Hong Kong and Graham Bowley from New York.

Independent : Terror plots & conspiracy theories: the hunt for Rashid Rauf

Friday, September 26, 2008

Terror plots & conspiracy theories: the hunt for Rashid Rauf

He is one of the world's most wanted men, linked to a July 21 attacker and implicated in the airline bomb plot. Yet Rashid Rauf is still at large. Kim Sengupta reveals the latest sighting of a notorious fugitive and asks: is he being sheltered by Pakistan's security services?

September 27, 2008

The rugged and beautiful valley of Balakot, rolling down to the blue-green waters of the Kunhar river near the Kashmir border in Pakistan, used to be a popular tourist destination before the devastating earthquake of three years ago wreaked havoc.

Reconstruction has been slow but one development which was back in business fast, supposedly with money siphoned from millions of pounds of international aid, has been a training camp used by Islamist militants.

It is in this area that Rashid Rauf, the 27-year-old from Birmingham accused of being a key organiser of a notorious plot to blow ten airliners out of the sky was said to have been spotted in March this year – his first sighting since his amazing escape from Pakistani police three months previously. The so-called "liquid bomb" plot was one of the most audacious terrorist conspiracies to be uncovered and led to sweeping security measures at airports around the world. The trial ended with seven men convicted of charges in relation to the plot, with a computer studies student Abdulla Ahmed Ali identified as the ringleader in court. They all face a retrial on more serious charges but the man described by law agencies as the real "mastermind", Rashid Rauf, remains on the run as Britain's most wanted terrorist.

He is reported to have broken cover again a month later around the 25th and 26th April. Looking thin and pale, with his once sparse beard down to his chest, he was spotted in Bahawalpur, around 400 miles south of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. If true this was a remarkably bold move, for this was the same town where he had been arrested by Pakistani police in August 2006 in connection with the airliner plot. He had also chosen to make his appearance at a meeting of the leadership of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a supposedly banned Muslim extremist group, which could have been raided by the country's security forces.

The Balakot camp, in the Manserah district, is run by Jaish-e-Mohammed, and has previous links with extremist UK Muslims, including Shahzad Tanweer, one of the 7/7 bombers. The reasons why Rauf, who is said to have been a conduit for al-Qa'ida in the "liquid bomb" plot, remains free to mix with a Jihadi group with continuing links to British Muslims is shrouded in the realpolitik of espionage and terrorism. It also raises questions about who are the real paymasters of the baker's delivery man from the Midlands who became such an important terrorist target.

Rauf first officially became a subject of police interest over the murder of his uncle Mohammed Saeed, stabbed to death on his way home from work in what was described as a frenzied attack, in Birmingham in 2002. Rashid, who had been working at a bakery in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham, started by his father, Abdul Rauf, fled to Pakistan soon after his uncle's death and headed for Bahawalpur, a dusty backwater, where the extended family of his wife, the daughter of an imam, were based.

Among them was his brother-in-law, Maulana Masood Azhar who founded Jaish-e-Mohammed at the Binori mosque in Karachi. The terrorist group was outlawed by Pakistan's then ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, after pressure from the US following the 9/11 attack. In reality, like many other groups officially banned in Pakistan, Jaish continued to operate under other guises. It uses the Balakot camp, known as Harkat al-Mujaheddin, to supply fighters in Afghanistan, and carries out attacks in India and Pakistan, where it was responsible for the country's first sustained wave of suicide bombings.

Jaish-e-Mohammed was also suspected of attempting General Musharraf's assassination, which surprised analysts as it is said to have a close working relationship with elements within ISI, the Pakistani secret police. The group went on to forge links with a number of Islamist groups, including, say the Pakistani authorities, al-Qa'ida and its bombmakers, who are suspected of causing the devastating blast at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad last weekend.

Rauf's radicalisation, according to those who knew him, had begun long before he went to Bahawalpur. There is believed to have been a political element to his uncle's murder and he was in contact with people from an extremist background. Rauf's father had helped set up Crescent Relief, a charity based at Ilford, in Essex, which raised and sent more than £100,000 to Pakistan following the earthquake of 2005. A significant portion of that was said to have been diverted to Islamic militants. There is, however, nothing to suggest that Mr Rauf senior, who stepped down as a director of the charity in 2003, knew about terrorists benefiting from donations.

The fugitive Rauf took the first name of Khalid while living in Bahawalpur, where he is said to have made contact with a senior al-Qa'ida operative, Abu Obadiah al-Masri, to plan the airliner attacks. The police then became aware of his identity. By that time British security agencies had uncovered the airliner plot and the Pakistani authorities were requested to track Rauf but not arrest him as it would have alerted the UK players in the illicit operation.

That is precisely what happened on 7 August 2006 before British investigators had gathered what they considered enough evidence to successfully prosecute the plotters. This was the prime reason given when the defendants, although convicted of other charges, were cleared of conspiracy to blow up the planes.

Peter Clarke, then the head of Counter Terrorism Command, said of Rauf's arrest: "This was not good news, we were at a critical point in building our case against them. If they got to hear that he had been arrested they might destroy evidence and scatter it to the four winds. More worrying still, if they were tipped off to the arrest they might panic and mount a desperate attack."

According to some sources within hours of Rauf's arrest someone connected with him had tried to contact the plotters in the UK asking them to launch the attacks as soon as possible. "The plotters received a very short message 'go now'," said Franco Frattini, the European Union's security commissioner, who was briefed by John Reid, then Home Secretary. "I was convinced by the British authorities this message exists." Why Rauf was arrested at that particular point is an issue of continuing controversy. The official Pakistani explanation was that there were fears that he may flee to Afghanistan. It is also said the Americans ordered his arrest because of concerns that the terrorists might slip through the net. There is another view that the arrest was ordered by the ISI to use Rauf to backs claims that the plot had originated in Afghanistan. This version of events was dismissed in the West as a desperate attempt to shift blame.

Britain had no extradition treaty with Pakistan, but the foreign minister said it might be willing to deport Rauf, who holds dual British and Pakistani nationality, if a request was made. In December 2006 a judge in Pakistan threw out terrorism charges against Rauf but he was remanded in custody, accused of possessing explosives and forged identity papers, regarded as holding charges while details were being sorted out for him to be sent back to the UK.

Rauf escaped in December 2007 while being taken back to his place of incarceration, Adiala prison, near Rawalpindi, after a court appearance in Islamabad. His jail record stated: "The accused is a dangerous person and involved in international activities. Therefore, he needs strict security. If any mishap happens while he is travelling, the in-charge police will be responsible." In the event his police escort, just two constables, allowed him to leave their van to travel in his uncle's car, stopped off for lunch at a branch of McDonald's and then allowed him to go into a mosque by himself for afternoon prayers.

Rauf was not seen again. The two constables, Mohammad Tufail and Nawabzada Khan, said they looked for him and were given a lift back to the police station by the uncle who then disappeared. An interim report into the escape concluded: "This is not a case of negligence but a case of criminal collusion."

Nine police officers were sacked over Rauf's escape. And that is where the matter appears to have ended. Al-Masri, the al-Qa'ida official Rauf had allegedly been working with, has, according to security sources, subsequently died of natural causes.

Few in the know in Pakistan accept that a bunch of provincial policemen were responsible for one of the most high profile prisoners in Pakistan, Rauf, fleeing with such ease. His lawyer, Hashmat Ali Habib, said in an interview: "You could call it a 'mysterious disappearance' if you like, but not an escape. The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not." Mr Habib says he is certain who was responsible, but like many in his country, he is afraid of publicly blaming the ISI for anything. One Pakistani official, who says he despairs of the Islamist "subversion" of his country, said: "It should not be difficult to understand why Rauf could not be sent to England... Can you imagine what kind of stuff Rauf may reveal under cross-examination in court in Britain?"

Previous experience has shown, however, that protection provided by a court does not necessarily lead to candour. At the 2006 trial of the group accused of plotting to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre and the Ministry of Sound nightclub one of the defendants, Omar Khayyam, 24, had given evidence at the Old Bailey that he was at a training camp in Pakistan where he had seen ISI officials giving lessons in bomb-making. Then, at the start of a day's proceedings, he said: "I just want to say that the ISI has had a word with my family in Pakistan regarding what I have been saying about them. I think they are worried I might end up revealing more about them and right now the priority for me has to be the safety of my family there. Much as I might want to go on and clarify matters I am going to stop. I am not going to discuss anything relating to the ISI any more."

WIFR : Shareef Sentencing

Friday, September 26, 2008

Shareef Sentencing

September 26, 2008

Sentencing is Tuesday for the man who was planning a terrorist attack at the CherryVale Mall back in 2006.

Derrick Shareef plead guilty back in November to plotting to put hand grenades in garbage cans at the mall during the busy Christmas shopping season.

Shareef was arrested in Rockford by an undercover agent who he though was supplying him with grenades and a gun in exchange for car stereo speakers.

Shareef faces life in prison.

Dawn : Rahman Malik nominated for International peace award

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rahman Malik nominated for International peace award

Wednesday, 24 Sep, ISLAMABAD: The International Human Rights Commission (IHRC) Wednesday nominated Advisor to the Prime Minister on Interior A. Rehman Malik for the ‘International Peace Award 2008 for War against Terrorism.’

Rehman Malik is the first male form Pakistan and third member of Pakistan People's Party to receive the honour as the award had also been conferred upon Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in the year 1996 for her outstanding contributions for democracy and human rights.

The award is recognition of the services rendered by Rehman Malik in the area of fighting war against terrorism and extremism and for achieving the lasting peace in the country, strengthening the democratic institution after the establishment of newly elected government under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan Daily : What Was Mysterious Activity Going on in the Marriott Hotel Islamabad by United States Marines

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Was Mysterious Activity Going on in the Marriott Hotel Islamabad by United States Marines

September 21, 2008

Marriott Hotel has now become a ghost house which was yesterday the most beautiful and prestigious hotels in the Islamabad. While the condemnation of the blasts and the deaths and the loss of property is going on from all the quarters, some intriguing news is also pouring in.

After the blast, mysteriously fire was started at the fourth and fifth floors. It was said that this fire was the result of gas pipeline burst running through the hotel. The million dollar question is that was the gas pipeline not running through the other floors? Why the fire broke out from the fourth and fifth flours? That is the question which perhaps holds the key to the mystery as why the hotel was targeted yesterday, in which more than 60 people died including many foreigners.

Though it would never get confirmed but the fire on the fifth and fourth floor of the hotel broke out because those flours were housing the mysterious steel boxes under the heavy guard of United States marines and no one including the Pakistani security forces and the security men of the hotel were allowed to go near with the them. These boxes were shifted inside the hotel when the Admiral Mike Mullen met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and others in Islamabad.

It is said that one member of parliament Mumtaz Alam who belongs to the PPP, the ruling party was there eye witnessed the whole scene when the white truck of US embassy came to the gate of Marriot Hotel and US marines themselves unloaded the steel boxes from the trucks and shifted them to the fourth and fifth floors without passing through them the scanners at the entrance of the hotels. When the truck was there, all the entrance and the exit passage way to the hotels were closed.

And now this blast has occurred at the Marriott, while that mysterious activity was going on.

Dawn : ‘Fedayeen’ claims responsibility

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

‘Fedayeen’ claims responsibility

By Our Staff Reporter | September 22, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Sept 22: A group calling itself Fedayeen-i-Islam claimed on Monday responsibility for the deadly suicide attack on the Marriott hotel.

According to TV channels, a spokesman for the group told Al Arabiya TV in Islamabad on phone about its involvement in Saturday’s bomb blast.

It could not be ascertained if the group had any link with Al Qaeda or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.

The interior ministry made no comment on the Fedayeen’s claim. However, a senior government official told Dawn that intelligence departments were investigating the call received by Al Arabiya.

“We have not heard the name of the organisation but we are trying to locate its network,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said it had been confirmed that the call was made from within the country, but not from Islamabad.

He said the investigators had questioned several truck drivers and showed them the video of the dumper truck that hit the steel barrier of the hotel to recognise the vehicle and its driver.

WaPo : A Modernized Taliban Thrives in Afghanistan

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Modernized Taliban Thrives in Afghanistan

Militia Operates a Parallel Government

By Pamela Constable | Washington Post Foreign Service | September 20, 2008

KABUL, Sept. 19 -- Just one year ago, the Taliban insurgency was a furtive, loosely organized guerrilla force that carried out hit-and-run ambushes, burned empty schools, left warning letters at night and concentrated attacks in the southern rural regions of its ethnic and religious heartland.

Today it is a larger, better armed and more confident militia, capable of mounting sustained military assaults. Its forces operate in virtually every province and control many districts in areas ringing the capital. Its fighters have bombed embassies and prisons, nearly assassinated the president, executed foreign aid workers and hanged or beheaded dozens of Afghans.

The new Taliban movement has created a parallel government structure that includes defense and finance councils and appoints judges and officials in some areas. It offers cash to recruits and presents letters of introduction to local leaders. It operates Web sites and a 24-hour propaganda apparatus that spins every military incident faster than Afghan and Western officials can manage.

"This is not the Taliban of Emirate times. It is a new, updated generation," said Waheed Mojda, a former foreign ministry aide under the Taliban Islamic Emirate, which ruled most of the country from 1996 to 2001. "They are more educated, and they don't punish people for having CDs or cassettes," he said. "The old Taliban wanted to bring sharia, security and unity to Afghanistan. The new Taliban has much broader goals -- to drive foreign forces out of the country and the Muslim world."

In late 2001, U.S. forces made common cause with ethnic groups in Afghanistan's north to overthrow the Taliban, in response to Osama bin Laden's use of the country as a base. Hamid Karzai was tapped as president by the United States and other powers, then elected to the job. In the early years, much of the deeply conservative Muslim country was largely peaceful and secure.

Over the past two years, the Taliban's revival has been fueled by fast-growing popular dissatisfaction with Karzai's government, which has failed to bring services and security to much of the country. Deepening public resentment against civilian deaths caused by U.S. and NATO alliance airstrikes is another factor.

No one here believes that the insurgents, estimated at 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, are currently capable of seizing the capital of Kabul or toppling the government, which is backed by more than 130,000 international troops. But a series of spectacular urban attacks in recent months, notably the bombing of the Indian Embassy and an armed assault on a parade reviewing stand where Karzai sat, have turned Kabul into a maze of bunkers and barricades that drive officialdom ever farther from the public.

In many regions a short drive from the capital, some of them considered safe even six months ago, residents and officials said the Taliban now controls roads and villages, patrolling in trucks and recruiting new fighters. Its members execute government employees, bomb and burn cargo trucks on the highway, and search bus passengers for foreign passports and cellphones programmed with official numbers.

"Our staff members don't want to commute to the capital anymore," said Nader Nadery, an official of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "They say, 'If the Taliban find my cellphone and call you, please tell them I am a shopkeeper.' " The Taliban is "creating an environment of fear, and it is working very well, because the people have no hope of being protected if they stand up against them," Nadery added.

Abdul Jabbar, a former anti-Soviet guerrilla commander and a member of parliament from Ghazni province, said he no longer dares visit his home district. Interviewed in Kabul, he said Taliban leaders asked him to leave the government and join their cause, but he refused and now fears being killed. Last week, three Ghazni residents were hanged by the Taliban, which called them government spies.

"The other day, a Taliban commander called me and said I should come help him to free Afghanistan from the foreigners," Jabbar recounted. "I asked him, 'What do you want me to do? Kill a teacher? Kidnap an engineer? Capture a U.N. vehicle?' The people are not happy about the Taliban, but the government is weak, and the foreign forces have not brought us security. What choice do we have?"

In Wardak, the next province toward Kabul along a highway that is under constant Taliban attack, residents said they now ask relatives from the capital not to travel there for weddings or funerals.

Roshanak Wardak, the only private obstetrician in the region, said that since last spring, Taliban leaders have recruited dozens of young men from her town. Wardak, who is also a legislator, said people in her province may not like the Taliban, but they relate to those in the movement as fellow Afghans and Muslims, at a time of growing public disenchantment with U.S. and NATO military forces.

"Their popularity is increasing day by day, because the government has done nothing for our province," she said. "They take our innocent boys and tell them Islam is in danger. They offer them money and weapons. Now everyone is becoming a Talib. It is a great game, and they are the fuel."

As in Ghazni, many of the Taliban supporters in Wardak are Pashtuns, members of the country's largest ethnic group. They believe that rival ethnic groups unfairly rule the country with the help of foreign soldiers. Though Karzai is a Pashtun, he is viewed in Taliban ranks as a traitor to his religion and community.

One aspect of the game the Taliban now clearly dominates is the propaganda war over battlefield victories, defeats and casualties. Once composed of largely illiterate fighters and clerics who shunned modern technology as un-Islamic, the Taliban now uses a variety of high-tech means to communicate its version of events, often far faster than its adversaries.

This issue has crystallized with the controversy over civilian casualties inflicted by U.S. and NATO airstrikes, especially a village bombing last month near Herat in western Afghanistan. Although civilian deaths have been frequent and real, officials say the Taliban quickly broadcasts exaggerated tolls, stoking public anger, while foreign military officers may take days to respond.

"We are definitely not winning the information war, and we have to reverse that," said Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, the chief spokesman for NATO forces here.

He said the Taliban uses such tactics as hiding in farm compounds, dressing dead fighters in civilian clothes and then denouncing foreign forces for bombing villagers. "They don't have to bother with the truth," Blanchette said.

Today's Taliban also has a much greater degree of formal organization. The old Taliban was disastrous at governing, and ministries were run by barefoot mullahs who scribbled orders on scraps of paper. The new Taliban structure has councils for each area of governance, appoints officials in controlled areas and confers swift justice for crimes and disputes.

One Afghan journalist said he recently visited the capital of Logar province, less than an hour's drive south of Kabul, where the Taliban now wields enormous power. He said a man had walked into a Logar radio station and politely introduced himself to the astonished manager as the new provincial spokesman for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

According to Mojda and others, the Taliban is still led by Mohammad Omar, a village cleric who headed the 1996-2001 administration and has been a fugitive since its overthrow. Some former leaders hold senior posts in the new movement, although many have been killed. The rank-and-file fighters are a mix of old members and new recruits.

Their statements focus on ridding Afghanistan of foreign occupiers and incompetent leaders. Although they use Islam to motivate followers, they regularly violate what people here consider to be basic Islamic tenets against such things as the murder of women and trafficking in opium.

Their predecessors used harsh punishments to instill law and order but were often pious Muslims. This year, the insurgents have killed teachers, mayors, policemen, truck drivers, doctors, female aid workers and Muslim clerics.

"These people claim to be Muslims, but they are nothing more than terrorists," said Abdul Razzak Qureshi, police chief of Paghman, a district in the mountains west of Kabul. Last week he showed a visiting journalist a trove of land mines and explosive devices that his officers had found planted beside roads and in culverts in the past several months.

One such device was detonated last week under a vehicle carrying Abdullah Wardak, the governor of Logar province, near his home in Paghman. He died instantly, along with two bodyguards and a driver.

In separate interviews, residents of Paghman, a pretty area in the hills with wildflowers, birches and breezy picnic spots, said they had unhappy memories of Taliban rule and hoped it would not return. So far, the insurgents have not emerged in daylight there, but Razzak, the police chief, said he was unsure how long his force of 147 officers could continue to protect a sprawling district of 186 villages that borders Taliban-controlled Wardak.

"The Taliban used to have nothing, but now they have more modern weapons than we do," he said. "Our people feel safe for now, but just over the border they operate freely and have their own checkpoints. If they decide to come here one day, there is nothing I can do to stop them."

NYT : Ex-Lawmaker Won’t Face Charges in Page Case

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ex-Lawmaker Won’t Face Charges in Page Case

By CHRISTINE JORDAN SEXTON | September 19, 2008

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Nearly two years after a Florida congressman abruptly resigned over sexually explicit messages he sent to a teenage House page, law enforcement authorities here have concluded there is “insufficient evidence” to charge him with breaking Florida laws.

Commissioner Gerald Bailey of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who was asked in September 2006 to look into the conduct of the congressman, Representative Mark Foley, Republican of West Palm Beach, said Friday that investigators were hampered by Mr. Foley’s refusal and that of Congress to grant them access to Congressional computer files.

The department was investigating whether Mr. Foley violated Florida’s computer child pornography and exploitation law, and a state law banning the transmittal of harmful material to minors via electronic equipment or devices.

“F.D.L.E. conducted as thorough and comprehensive investigation as possible considering Congress and Mr. Foley denied us access to critical data,” Mr. Bailey said in a statement. “Should additional information arise which is pertinent to this case, we will ensure it is appropriately investigated.”

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Laura Sweeney, confirmed that Mr. Foley also would not face any federal charges.

At a news conference on Friday in West Palm Beach, Mr. Foley’s lawyer, David Roth, read a statement in which Mr. Foley said, “I am of course relieved that after extensive and thorough investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Justice Department, the determination has been made that there is no probable cause to believe that I committed any crime.”

He added: “Once again, I wish to express my sincerest apologies for the inappropriate e-mails I sent, particularly to the recipients. I fully realize that I failed them, my family, my former Congressional colleagues and staff, as well as the community as a whole.”

As part of the state investigation in 2006, Gov. Jeb Bush asked state law enforcement officials to look into why Mr. Foley’s electronic messages had not been turned over to Florida prosecutors. House officials told investigators they were constitutionally barred from granting access to Mr. Foley’s Congressional computer without his consent.

The report said that Mr. Roth told the Florida authorities that it was not in his client’s best interest to grant such access.

The department’s 16-page report, available online at, shows that law-enforcement officials interviewed 17 former House pages from Florida who had worked in Congress from 2000 to 2006. None reported having had any inappropriate activity or conversations with Mr. Foley.

The report said that the page whose accusations led to Mr. Foley’s resignation told investigators that he and Mr. Foley had exchanged e-mail and instant messages in which the congressman asked about his sexual experiences.

The page also said that Mr. Foley wanted to perform sexual acts with him at a reunion of pages in Washington in 2003.

Florida’s jurisdiction in the case was restricted to crimes that occurred in the state. Investigators also were limited by a three-year statute of limitations in the case.

The Florida report says that the F.B.I interviewed four pages who had also communicated electronically with Mr. Foley, but that the interviews did not yield evidence that the conversations occurred while Mr. Foley was in Florida.

The backlash surrounding the case helped the Democrats regain control of Congress in the 2006 elections, including Mr. Foley’s seat.

Dawn : The children of 9/11

Friday, September 19, 2008

The children of 9/11

By Irfan Husain | September 10, 2008

Another terrorist group tried and sentenced in Britain; another link with Pakistan as the training centre for terrorists established. This time, the group of eight accused of trying to blow up seven airliners over the Atlantic two years ago was in the spotlight following a lengthy trial. Three were found guilty of assorted terrorism charges, while the jury found insufficient evidence against the other five. The prosecution is now considering whether to request a re-trial.

All the members of the cell were young men of Pakistani origin, and several of them had travelled to Pakistan shortly before being arrested. In the newspapers and TV discussions that followed the trial, their trips to the country of origin were highlighted. On BBC’s flagship news programme, Newsnight, a security expert was asked to comment on the fact that so many terror plots seemed to originate in Pakistan. And when residents of the East London neighbourhood where most of the group came from were interviewed, they spoke of the suspicion they were viewed with after details about the plot became public.

While the defendants insisted that all they wanted to do was to set off an explosion in a public place to draw attention to the “wrongs Muslims were being subjected to”, the fact that several of them had recorded videos threatening death and destruction undercut their defence. Ahmed Ali, the leader of the gang, was shown on the screen fulminating:

“Sheikh Osama warned you many times to leave our lands or you will be destroyed, and now the time has come for you to be destroyed… We will take our revenge and anger [sic], ripping amongst your people and scattering the people and your body parts, and your people’s body parts responsible for these wars and oppression, and decorating the streets.”

Fortunately, their skills as terrorists did not match their intentions. When one of the suspects returned from Pakistan, his baggage was secretly searched at Heathrow, and was found to contain a large number of batteries and plastic liquid containers. This aroused the suspicion of intelligence officials from MI5, and the suspect was followed, and his flat bugged. The expanding surveillance became Britain’s biggest covert operation, as members of the group were followed to an apartment that turned out to be a bomb factory.

Every couple of months, some fresh terrorist plot is uncovered in the UK, and invariably, those involved turn out to be Muslims with links to Pakistan. Understandably, this leads to a high degree of profiling by the security services that antagonises ordinary Muslims who feel they are being unfairly singled out. But under the circumstances, what can the state do to protect its citizens? It must be said that the British government is doing its best under very trying circumstances.

Clearly, Pakistan needs to do much more to crack down on the training camps that are giving the country such a bad name. But instead of halting these activities, it seems our security services are hindering investigations. Rashid Rauf, the Pakistani suspected of being involved in the Atlantic airliner plot, was arrested in Pakistan on a tip-from British intelligence. But while being tried in Rawalpindi, and pending an extradition request from Britain, he mysteriously gave his police guards the slip last December, and remains at large. According to one theory, he is under the protection of one of our intelligence agencies.

The widespread impression in the West is that Pakistan is not doing enough to stamp out extremism on its soil, and has become a magnet for terrorists from around the world. These people, after acquiring the skills necessary to carry out operations, then travel abroad to kill and maim. This view is mirrored in the perception that the Taliban are allowed free rein in the tribal areas, and use this safe haven to stage attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan. As American and NATO casualties multiply, pressure builds up on Western governments to halt these attacks. The recent American ground attack on Pakistani soil might have been the first of its kind, but I doubt if it will be the last.

Unfortunately, most Pakistanis are unwilling to understand the seriousness of the situation. In their strident defence of our sovereignty, they forget that lives are being lost in Afghanistan and in other countries just because we cannot or will not control our own tribal areas and seal the border. Foreigners will only buy the argument about the difficult terrain up to a point. But how can we claim sovereignty without exercising any control over this territory?

Meanwhile, Muslims generally and Pakistanis especially are getting a bad name abroad. In Britain, the actions of a handful of hotheads are making life difficult for hundreds of thousands of peaceful, hard-working citizens with links to Pakistan. Immature and alienated, these terrorists seek the glory of newspaper headlines as they pursue their bumbling efforts to slaughter innocent people in the West. Had they succeeded in bringing down even one airliner as they had planned to, the repercussions for the Pakistani community in Britain would have been severe. But that is the last thought in the minds of these terrorists, as they seek ‘martyrdom’ for a brutal cause.

According to the previous head of MI5, the agency is currently tracking the activities of hundreds of suspects in Britain. Each time it finds evidence of a terrorist conspiracy, Muslims are dragged into the spotlight as the source of indiscriminate violence against their neighbours. The children of 9/11 are not doing their community any favours, and they are certainly not helping the cause of Muslims around the world.

Tomorrow will be the seventh anniversary of that fateful day in September when Al-Qaeda launched its attacks against the United States. Since then, other atrocities have been carried out from Madrid to London to Bali. Each attack has resulted in heightened security concerns, and more anger against the faith that is supposed to inspire the killers.

Those directly involved in the various extremist groups are clearly beyond reason and argument. But surely those who silently support them should understand that such tactics ultimately do more damage to peaceful Muslims than they do to the intended victims.

WaPo : Witness Ties Colombian General to Paramilitaries

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Witness Ties Colombian General to Paramilitaries

By Juan Forero | Washington Post Foreign Service | September 17, 2008

MEDELLIN, Colombia -- Gen. Mario Montoya has for years been a trusted caretaker of the sizable aid package Washington provides Colombia's army, leading helicopter-and-commando teams that eradicated drug crops and helping orchestrate this summer's dramatic rescue of hostage Ingrid Betancourt and three captured U.S. defense contractors from Marxist rebels.

With his cinematic bluster and take-charge nature, he impressed visiting American congressional delegations and military officials as an effective, no-nonsense commander who produced results.

But now, a former paramilitary fighter has said in special judicial proceedings that Montoya, who heads Colombia's army, collaborated with death squads that took control of this city's poor neighborhoods from the guerrillas a few years ago. His testimony, along with that of at least four paramilitary commanders, is illuminating the links between Colombia's potent, U.S.-backed military and its brutal paramilitary proxies.

The allegations, if proved, could be highly damaging for the government of President Álvaro Uribe, a strong ally of the Bush administration who has staunchly supported the general in the face of past allegations. Investigations into the ties between illegal paramilitary groups and the Colombian state have already implicated numerous allies of the president, including dozens of lawmakers and the former head of the secret police.

Videotaped testimony by Luis Adrián Palacio, made during two days of closed-door hearings in August and viewed by The Washington Post, has prompted the attorney general's office in Bogota to open a preliminary criminal investigation of the allegations against Montoya, senior investigative officials said.

In a separate jailhouse interview this month, Palacio recounted an April 2002 episode in which he says Montoya funneled weapons to a potent paramilitary militia commanded in this important northern city by Carlos Mauricio García, better known by his alias, Rodrigo 00.

"Montoya is under investigation," said an official in the attorney general's office in Bogota who is familiar with the case. "He has not been charged, but that is the next step." Another official familiar with the case added that Palacio "has a high degree of credibility."

In an interview, Montoya vigorously denied the allegations and called Palacio "a bandit" who is testifying against him to secure an early release from jail. The general also said that Palacio's specific claim that Montoya personally delivered a vehicle loaded with six assault rifles and a grenade launcher was absurd.

"He is lying; he is lying out of all sides of his mouth," Montoya, accompanied by two aides, said in his office. "I am a fighter. I am a warrior. That is why I have enemies. I defend Colombian democracy."

Palacio's testimony comes after several jailed paramilitary commanders, recounting their crimes as part of a government-supervised disarmament of militias, have implicated 30 military officers and police officials. Taken together, testimony by the former fighters shows how some commanders of an army that has for years received U.S. military hardware and training may have collaborated more closely than previously thought with death squads in the 1990s and the early part of this decade.

The testimony against Montoya, well known in Washington because of his early role in managing the large U.S. military-aid package, is particularly embarrassing as the Uribe administration lobbies the U.S. Congress for a free-trade agreement, a debate closely watched by international human rights organizations.

Colombian officials say Palacio may actually receive additional jail time for testifying against Montoya because, by agreeing to cooperate in special hearings for paramilitary fighters, he also has to admit to killings and other crimes he committed. Already, Uribe's administration has been shaken by the arrest this month of a friend and ally of the president, retired Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, on murder charges. Investigators say del Río built a brutally effective counterinsurgency force with paramilitary militias and often planned joint operations with the top paramilitary leader of the late 1990s and early part of this decade, Carlos Castaño. Del Río denies ties to paramilitary groups.

Until its fighters began a disarmament process in 2003, the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, massacred thousands of villagers, carried out assassinations of political leaders and union members, and funded its operations through cocaine smuggling and support from wealthy Colombians and the Colombian security forces. Despite their brutal tactics, the paramilitaries became an effective proxy force against rebels for a then-ineffective army.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees funds to the Colombian army, expressed concern over Palacio's allegations. Leahy is holding up $72 million in funding because of reports that the army has killed hundreds of peasants in recent years and presented the bodies as those of rebels killed in combat. Montoya is considered a leading proponent of compiling combat kills to measure success, a policy that human rights groups and some Colombian officials say fuels the slaying of civilians. Montoya also denies that his policies have led to the deaths of civilians.

"There have been continuing concerns with reports linking General Montoya and troops under his command to paramilitaries," Leahy said in a statement. "These allegations should be thoroughly investigated to assure that the chief of the Colombian Army -- an institution that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid each year -- is of unimpeachable integrity."

In Washington, the Bush administration has seen Montoya as an effective commander, particularly in developing strategies against the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The army, under Montoya's command, has in recent months struck major blows against the FARC, including the July rescue of American and Colombian hostages in a daring operation.

"Our experience with Montoya is a good one," Thomas A. Shannon Jr., assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said by telephone from Washington. "He is a great field commander. He's done very well with the FARC."

Shannon said U.S. officials were aware of past allegations against Montoya but "found nothing to support them." Shannon said the current accusations are serious and should be investigated.

In interviews, residents of a hillside neighborhood here called Comuna 13 said the army's 4th Brigade, under Montoya's command, teamed up with paramilitary fighters in Operation Orion in October of 2002 to dislodge well-entrenched guerrillas. Though many residents welcomed the operation, reports surfaced later that paramilitary fighters killed guerrilla collaborators and buried their bodies in unmarked graves.

"No paramilitary commander operates alone," said Sister Rosa Cadavid, a Catholic nun in the neighborhood who has publicly denounced Operation Orion. "They operate with the military, and the man in charge then was General Montoya."

The allegations are also contained in a CIA report, disclosed by the Los Angeles Times in 2007, that said Montoya conducted operations with the AUC in Comuna 13. Colombian authorities have said the document was based on unproven intelligence, and Montoya said in the interview that Orion also was directed at paramilitary fighters.

But officials in the attorney general's office said the CIA report is considered important evidence for investigators untangling the role of the military and paramilitary militias in Medellin. Montoya called the CIA report inaccurate.

"It's an issue that has to be cleared up," said one senior Colombian official in the attorney general's office, who, like other investigators interviewed, asked to remain unnamed because the case is still being probed. "In that operation, irregular things happened."

Montoya's trajectory through the army has included intelligence work in the Charry Solano Battalion -- which was implicated in assassinations and bombings in the 1970s and '80s -- to leading Colombian forces in U.S.-funded counter-drug efforts in southern Colombia earlier this decade.

Paramilitarism expanded dramatically in many of the regions of the country where he has been a top commander -- from here in Antioquia state to northeastern Santa Marta, where court documents have shown close links between the state security apparatus and paramilitary commanders. Montoya said he has always battled death squads as vigorously as he fought against guerrillas.

"In this job, you always have people accusing, but never have these accusations had legal repercussions," he said. "People know that by making accusations you can get a lower sentence."

In testimony Aug. 11 and 12 in a Medellin courtroom, Palacio said Montoya was known as "the cousin" for his close relationship with paramilitary units.

In the interview in jail, Palacio explained how he had joined the paramilitary movement in 1998 and was sent by García, the commander known as Rodrigo 00, into the army the following year, enlisting so he could steal weapons, provide intelligence on troop movements and, eventually, form ties with corrupt officers.

By November 2001, Palacio said, he was participating in counter-guerrilla operations with Medellin's Granaderos Battalion, along with paramilitary fighters. Montoya headed Medellin's 4th Brigade from December 2001 to December 2003.

"They collaborated with us, and we collaborated with them," Palacio said. "They came with us, to patrol the neighborhoods."

Palacio was ousted from the army in April 2002 and rejoined the AUC as a foot soldier. In May of 2003, he was arrested on extortion, arms smuggling and other charges and, in 2005, pleaded guilty.

A judge sentenced him to a 14 years in prison, according to court documents.

Palacio could have been released within a year, having won credit for time served and good behavior. But joining the demobilization process, and testifying against Montoya while admitting to more than 20 homicides, could mean two to three additional years in jail, authorities say.

Palacio said he did it to start anew, with no fear that his past crimes would haunt him and lead to charges in the future.

WaPo : 6 Die in Suspected U.S. Missile Strike in Pakistan

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

6 Die in Suspected U.S. Missile Strike in Pakistan

By NAHAL TOOSI | The Associated Press | September 17, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Air-fired missiles hit a militant compound near the Afghan border and killed at least six people Wednesday evening, officials said, soon after a senior American officer met with government leaders to discuss the furor over U.S. attacks inside Pakistan.

The airstrike was likely to further fan anger among Pakistanis over a surge in cross-border operations by U.S. forces that have strained the two countries' seven-year alliance against terrorist groups.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that several missiles hit a compound in the South Waziristan tribal area that has been used by Taliban militants and Hezb-i-Islami, another extremist group involved in escalating attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

One official said a pilot-less drone of the type used by the CIA and U.S. military forces in Afghanistan was heard in the area before the attack. Both said informants in the area reported six people killed and three wounded, but their identities were not immediately clear.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said he had no reports of any attack into Pakistan. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could not be reached immediately. The White House declined to comment on the report.

Hours earlier, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met separately with Pakistan's prime minister and the army chief, both of whom have voiced strong protests to attacks on suspected militants havens in the country's restless northwest.

According to a U.S. Embassy statement, Mullen "reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries."

President Bush made a similar statement about Pakistan's sovereignty in July after meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Washington.

Since then, suspected U.S. missile attacks inside Pakistan have intensified, and U.S. commandos staged a helicopter-borne ground assault in a South Waziristan village Sept. 3.

American officials complain Pakistan has not done enough to keep militant groups from using the tribal belt as a base to stage attacks in Afghanistan. The tribal areas are semiautonomous regions where the Pakistani government has traditionally had limited influence.

"The Pakistani government has to take control on its side of the border and we are working in a variety of ways to help the Pakistani government build its capabilities," Richard Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.

Pakistan acknowledges extremist groups and al-Qaida fugitives are in its frontier region and concedes it is difficult to prevent militants from slipping into Afghanistan.

But it insists it is doing its best to flush out militants and paying a heavy price. It points to the deployment of 120,000 soldiers in the northwest, heavy losses by security forces, and recent military offensives that have drawn a wave of retaliatory suicide attacks by the Taliban.

One such offensive, against insurgents in the Bajur border region, has garnered U.S. praise amid signs it is helping reduce violence on the Afghan side of the border.

On Wednesday, Pakistani troops backed by jet fighters killed at least 19 suspected insurgents there, officials said. The army says more than 700 suspected militants and 40 soldiers have died in six weeks of fighting. It declines to estimate civilian casualties.

But the U.S. ground attack and missile strikes from drones have embarrassed Pakistan's government and military, threatening to intensify anti-American sentiment. Many Pakistanis say the country is being made a scapegoat for Western failures in Afghanistan and contend the cross-border attacks only fuel militancy.

The army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a strong public rebuke to the U.S. last week, insisting Pakistan's territorial integrity "will be defended at all cost" and denying there was any agreement for U.S. forces to operate there.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army's chief spokesman, told the AP on Tuesday that Pakistani commanders had received orders to fire on any intruding forces following the Sept. 3 cross-border raid.

Some analysts said it was unlikely Pakistan would risk losing billions in American aid by targeting U.S. soldiers or aircraft. Civilian leaders have stressed that they must solve the issue through diplomacy.

"We cannot pick up guns and say that 'here we are coming,'" Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn News television Wednesday. "I don't want to say anything which can jeopardize this relationship we have with the Americans on the issue of terrorism."

He said President Asif Ali Zardari would take up the issue during an upcoming trip to Washington.

Associated Press writers Stephen Graham in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Habib Khan in Khar and Paul Ames in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press

WaPo : 3 U.S. Soldiers Charged With Murder in Iraq Deaths

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

3 U.S. Soldiers Charged With Murder in Iraq Deaths

The Associated Press | September 17, 2008

FRANKFURT, Germany -- The U.S. Army has charged three soldiers with murder for their role in the killing of Iraqis last year.

Authorities say the Iraqi men were blindfolded, shot in the head and dumped in a Baghdad canal around April 2007 in alleged retribution for casualties within the 172nd Infantry Brigade.

The Army said in a statement released Wednesday that Sgt. John Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. -- all formerly assigned to 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment -- face charges premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice.

Reuters : Anthrax suspect must have had help: U.S. senator

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Anthrax suspect must have had help: U.S. senator

By Randall Mikkelsen | September 17, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senator targeted in the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks said on Wednesday he is convinced that the man believed to have carried it out did not act alone.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, voiced doubts to FBI Director Robert Mueller at a hearing in which other lawmakers called for a stepped-up review of the FBI's case against U.S. Army scientist Bruce Ivins.

Last month the FBI and Justice Department said Ivins, an anthrax expert who killed himself in July, was solely responsible for the mailing of anthrax-laced envelopes to politicians and media organizations shortly after the September 11 attacks.

The mailings killed five people and sickened 17. One of the letters was addressed to Leahy, but it was misdirected to another building and he was unharmed.

"If he (Ivins) was the one who sent the letter, I do not believe in any way shape or manner that he is the only person involved in this attack on Congress or the American people," Leahy told Mueller. "I believe there are others out there. I believe there are others who can be charged with murder."

Leahy did not explain his views, and a spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for elaboration.

FBI officials have said the investigation is over and would be formally closed soon. But Mueller told Leahy the bureau would remain open to considering new evidence that pointed to additional suspects.

"We have looked at every lead and followed every lead to determine if anyone else was involved and will continue to do so," Mueller said.

Ivins' death and the FBI's disclosure that new DNA analysis techniques helped crack the case have sparked questions over the reliability of the evidence against Ivins. His lawyer says he was innocent.

Mueller on Tuesday announced that the FBI had asked the National Academy of Sciences to review the scientific evidence, but some lawmakers said it was not enough.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa sought a congressional probe, and Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania urged Mueller to let Congress name some members of the review panel.

"There has to be some alternative process capable of ensuring, in a way that a trial could have, that the FBI got it right," Grassley said.

FBI investigators mistakenly focused for years on another scientist, Steven Hatfill. Hatfill was never charged and the government agreed in June to pay him $5.85 million to settle a lawsuit. Hatfill was seen in the audience for Wednesday's hearing but he did not address the lawmakers.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

IHT : Gates apologizes for Afghan deaths

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gates apologizes for Afghan deaths

By Thom Shanker | September 17, 2008

KABUL: The U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, expressed "sincere condolences and personal regrets" Wednesday for the deaths of Afghan civilians during recent airstrikes and announced a series of new measures designed to make amends when innocents are killed.

Gates accepted a proposal from Afghan officials to establish a permanent joint investigative group to rapidly determine the facts surrounding incidents of civilian casualties.

And he pledged that even before all the facts are known, the United States would apologize for civilian casualties and offer compensation to survivors.

"I think the key for us is, on those rare occasions when we do make a mistake, when there is an error, to apologize quickly, to compensate the victims quickly and then carry out the investigation," Gates said.

He said he ordered the new measures "so people know most of all that we care about them" and to prove that when there are civilian casualties, "We are sorry for that and we are going to make amends as quickly as possible."

The new policy is a clear indication that the United States and its NATO allies fear they risk losing the support of the Afghan people, and of the world community, for the stabilization mission here.

Even so, senior Pentagon officials say that incidents of civilian casualties are trumpeted by the Taliban and Al Qaeda as proof of American injustice and that many of those reports are exaggerated or false.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said that the idea to create a permanent joint investigative body for incidents of civilian casualties was raised by senior Afghan officials and that Gates, during a day of meetings here Wednesday, officially agreed to the plan.

In several recent cases of civilian casualties, separate investigations by the Afghan government, U.S. military and international organizations have returned with conflicting assessments.

On his fourth visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, Gates acknowledged the need for more troops here.

On Tuesday, the senior American commander, General David McKiernan, said for the first time that he needed three combat brigades of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers each over and above the one extra battalion of 500 to 1,500 soldiers and one extra brigade that President George W. Bush has ordered to arrive here by early next year.

"My expectation is that we will be able to meet the requirements the commanders have here during the course of 2009," Gates said.

But he did not give exact figures for reinforcements, nor did he say whether any additional increases would come from the American military or if allies would be pressed to fill the short-fall in troops identified by McKiernan.

The defense secretary gave an impassioned restatement of the American commitment to the Afghanistan conflict, which often has been described as the forgotten war since vastly more resources were committed to U.S. forces in Iraq.

"You have seen the face of the enemy, the ruthlessness and the determination," he said.

"Let there be no doubt that the United States and our many partners around the world are just as determined to help you win the peace and freedom you deserve."

MSNBC : Inside the terror plot that 'rivaled 9/11'

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Inside the terror plot that 'rivaled 9/11'

What really happened in the case that led airlines to bans liquids and gels

By Richard Greenberg, Paul Cruickshank, and Chris Hansen | Dateline NBC | September 15, 2008

In one of the most significant terrorism cases since 9/11, a British jury last week convicted three British citizens, accused of plotting to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners, on a charge of conspiracy to murder. The plot, which disrupted air travel at the time, led authorities to impose permanent restrictions on liquids and gels on airplanes.

But in a decision that surprised many observers, the jury deadlocked on a second murder conspiracy charge that specifically alleged the men intended to detonate explosive devices on board a trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft. Prosecutors are seeking to retry the three men on that charge.

The five-month trial highlighted the continuing threat posed by British-born radicals and the potential for Britain to serve as a staging ground for attacks against the United States.

Authorities say the men, arrested in August 2006, planned to smuggle liquid explosives disguised as sports drinks aboard a half-dozen or more flights headed from London’s Heathrow Airport to cities in the United States and Canada. Counterterrorism investigators say that such an attack could have killed well over 1,500 on board the planes, and many more if detonated over densely populated urban areas.

In an interview, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told Dateline NBC that, if successful, the alleged plot "would have rivaled 9/11 in terms of the number of deaths and in terms of the impact on the international economy."

A review of the nearly 5,000 pages of trial transcripts and interviews with key British, American and Pakistani officials involved in the investigation offer insights into the current state of al-Qaida and the evolution of its operations, adding to the body of evidence that recruits from the West are being trained and directed by al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan.

The name al-Qaida was not spoken frequently in court, but it loomed over the entire trial.

Prosecutors did not produce any evidence explicitly linking the plot to al-Qaida, but privately, British officials have suggested that al Qaida’s number three at the time, Abu Ubaidah al Masri, authorized the alleged airline plot. Al Masri reportedly died last year of natural causes.

U.S. officials: Plotters trained by al-Qaida in Pakistan

A senior Bush administration official and two U.S. intelligence officials told Dateline that intelligence shows that some of the men convicted in this case – though the officials did not identify them by name – traveled to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, widely believed to be home to al-Qaida’s leaders, where they received explosives training “from al-Qaida specialists.”

Testifying before a Senate committee last year, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, described the plotters as “an al-Qaida cell, directed by al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan.”

While some have questioned whether an attack really was imminent or even viable, law enforcement and intelligence sources on both sides of the Atlantic insist that it was only weeks away. “This was no dress rehearsal,” says Andy Hayman, at the time Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations, whose command included counterterrorism. If the plotters had not been stopped, Hayman adds, “I believe they would have been successful.”

The three convicted of murder conspiracy – Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, and Tanvir Hussain, 27 – were among eight who went on trial last April. One defendant, Mohammed Gulzar, 27, was acquitted of all charges. The jury could not reach a verdict on the two murder conspiracy charges against four other men: Ibrahim Savant, 27, Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, Waheed Zaman, 24, and Umar Islam, 30. The four, whom prosecutors described as foot soldiers in the plot, earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and now face a possible retrial on both murder conspiracy charges.

At trial, prosecutors characterized Ali and Sarwar and the acquitted man, Gulzar, as lead figures in the conspiracy.

Authorities described Ali, who lived in the east London community of Walthamstow and had a college degree in computer engineering, as the cell leader in Britain and the one responsible for developing the mechanics of the bomb design. Sarwar was essentially the bomb chemist; he purchased and stored the chemicals to make the liquid explosive and detonator. Authorities alleged that Gulzar “superintended” the plot, traveling into the U.K. on a fraudulent South African passport to oversee the final preparations for the attack.

Ali, Sarwar, and Gulzar all had significant links to Pakistan. Between 2002 and 2006, Ali and Sarwar made repeated trips there. In early 2003, according to court testimony, both traveled to a refugee camp in Chaman, Pakistan near the Afghan border, on behalf of a London-based Islamic medical charity. Ali testified that the suffering he saw in the refugee camps made him increasingly angry with U.S. and British foreign policy.

Gulzar, originally from Birmingham, England, fled to Pakistan in 2002 when, according to law enforcement sources, British police sought him for questioning in the murder of a friend’s uncle. That friend, Rashid Rauf, also fled to Pakistan around the same time and is believed by counterterrorism investigators to have played a critical role in the alleged airline plot, coordinating between the plotters in the U.K. and the al Qaida leadership in Pakistan.

On the stand, Ali, Sarwar, and Gulzar all acknowledged being in frequent communication with men in Pakistan. Counterterrorism officials say that Gulzar’s main contact was his old friend Rauf. Ali and Sarwar testified that they were in touch with a Kashmiri militant who went alternately by the names Yusuf and Jamil Shah. Sarwar told the court that he received explosives training from the man in Pakistan in early summer 2006.

Ali, who was in Pakistan during that same period, was already on the radar screen of British intelligence, according to British counterterrorism sources, who told Dateline that Ali’s name had surfaced in an intelligence analysis mapping out the associates of suspected terrorists. The British security service MI5 brought in Scotland Yard, the sources say, and the two agencies coordinated closely from that point on. The sources say that the first clues that Ali might be planning an attack on commercial aviation came to their attention in June 2006, though a more complete picture only emerged several weeks later, in mid-July.

British counterterrorism investigators suggest that the alleged airline plotters may have had links to individuals involved in other plots. If nothing else, they point to an intriguing set of coincidences. For instance, Mohammed Hamid, a radical preacher who called himself Osama bin London, worked in the same east London charity shop as Ali and Sarwar, the alleged airline plot leaders, and traveled to the same refugee camp in Pakistan. Earlier this year, the 50-year-old Hamid was convicted of arranging terrorist training in the British countryside for several of those plotting to bomb the London transport system on July 21, 2005.
Story continues below ↓advertisement

Furthermore, British court records reveal an intriguing coincidence in the timing of trips to Pakistan made by leaders of four major terrorist plots in Britain: a 2004 fertilizer bomb plot, the July 7 and July 21, 2005 London transit attacks, and the alleged airline plot. Some counterterrorism investigators wonder if these plots may have been part of a campaign by al-Qaida to hit Britain with a rolling sequence of attacks.

Andy Hayman refuses to comment directly on that possibility. “Until you absolutely know for sure through evidence, intelligence what happened when they went to Pakistan, you could never reliably answer that question. “But,” adds Hayman, “on the balance of probability, do you not find it rather strange that the country that they visited, and whatever went on there precipitated them coming back to the U.K. and committing acts of terrorism? I leave that open for others to draw their own conclusions.”

Piecing together a timeline

Testimony established that Ali, the alleged airline plot ringleader, was in Pakistan in the fall of 2004 and traveled back to Britain in early 2005. During that same period, additional court records show, key figures in the July 7 and July 21, 2005 bombings were also in Pakistan, including July 7 suicide bombers Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, and July 21 ringleader Muktar Said Ibrahim, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Ali may have been in communication with Said Ibrahim in the spring of 2005, according to British officials, who explain that a cell phone police recovered from Ali contained a number used by Said Ibrahim.

That information was not presented at trial, nor was the jury told that Mohammed Gulzar, the alleged airline plot supervisor, who was acquitted, met several times with Mohammed al Ghabra, 28, a British citizen, who has been designated an al-Qaida facilitator by the U.S. government. At the trial, al Ghabra was referred to only by a nickname, “Gabs, ” according to counterterrorism sources. Al Ghabra [...] and Gulzar’s meetings took place in South Africa and London in the spring and summer of 2006.

In announcing al Ghabra’s designation on December 19, 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department stated: “Al Ghabra has organized travel to Pakistan for individuals seeking to meet with senior al Qaida individuals and to undertake Jihad training.” It also stated that al Ghabra “maintains contact with… senior al Qaida officials in Pakistan.”

Al Ghabra has denied the allegations. In 2004, according to the Times of London, al Ghabra was acquitted on unrelated charges of fraud and “possession of a document or record that could be useful to terrorism.”

Al Ghabra is currently living openly in east London.

Ali, the alleged airline plot ringleader, made four trips to Pakistan between 2003 and 2006, according to trial testimony. Something about a trip he made there in the spring of 2006 – officials will not disclose exactly what – heightened their suspicion. According to the Daily Telegraph, when Ali arrived in London on June 24, 2006, British agents “were waiting at Heathrow to secretly open his baggage in a back room.”

Soon after Ali’s return, the probe became “red hot,” former Assistant Police Commissioner Hayman says. “This was, at that time, the only show in town.” Investigators began round-the-clock surveillance. Counterterrorism investigators say that following Ali led them to the others he was recruiting, which led to more surveillance.

British counterterrorism investigators say that it eventually became the biggest operation of its kind. At its peak, they say the investigation involved as many as a thousand intelligence and police officers, including surveillance teams that kept tabs on Ali, Sarwar, and the other suspected cell members. At trial, prosecutors introduced evidence of meetings in restaurants, parks, over games of tennis, and even by a Muslim cemetery. Security camera footage showed the operatives on a veritable shopping spree for what authorities alleged were parts to make the explosives.

While the plotters had not yet assembled a complete device, prosecutors stated that they had acquired all the constituent parts for the three key components: the liquid explosive, the detonator, and the trigger – enough to produce at least 20 bombs.

Their purchases included more than 40 liters of hydrogen peroxide, the main ingredient for the liquid explosive, which they bought from health food and hydroponics suppliers in Britain. Ali had brought some of the materials back from Pakistan, including packets of the sugar-based powdered drink Tang and AA batteries. Authorities alleged that the Tang would function as fuel for the hydrogen peroxide-based explosive; the AA batteries would conceal the chemical compound hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD) for the detonator. Sarwar purchased the key chemicals for that compound at local pharmacies.

Their bomb design, which has been widely reported, had striking similarities to explosives used in previous terrorist plots, authorities say. Hydrogen peroxide was the main ingredient in the explosives used in both the July 7 and July 21 plots, while HMTD was also used as the detonator in the July 7 attack, which killed 52 people in addition to the four suicide bombers.

In late July 2006, Ali set up shop in an east London apartment his brother had just purchased as an investment. Ali testified that he told his brother he would help fix it up for resale. According to further court testimony, Ali and one of his associates went to work experimenting with the bomb components. They drilled holes in the sports drink bottles to drain them; the plan was to refill them with the explosive mixture and reseal the bottles with superglue. Ali also figured out how to remove the AA battery contents in order to insert the HMTD. Beyond that, they were working on the trigger, for which they planned to use a disposable camera wired to the detonator.

Every move being watched

The plotters were unaware that by early August, the British secret service MI5 had broken into the apartment and installed video and audio probes to record their every move. On Aug. 3, 2006, investigators watched as two of the plotters made an apparent breakthrough in their bomb design. “That’s the boom,” one said, followed later by this phrase, “We’ve got our virgins.” In court, prosecutors said the comment referred to the rewards the men hoped to receive in the afterlife for carrying out their impending suicide mission.

John Reid, who oversaw the investigation as U.K. Home Secretary in 2006, says he had no doubt that the bomb could have worked. “They had the components. And they had them cunningly, very sophisticated, but very simply made as everyday commodities that you might take onto a plane with you.”

Dateline, in conjunction with the British broadcaster ITN, commissioned a demonstration by an explosives expert. It showed that a device similar to the one described in the court case – a half-liter hydrogen peroxide explosive with an HMTD detonator – could blow a hole in the side of an aircraft fuselage.

U.S. and British officials agree that the potential threat of the alleged airline plot drove them to new levels of trans-Atlantic cooperation. According to the senior Bush administration official, it also prompted “a new paradigm of counterterrorism intelligence sharing” among U.S. agencies, including CIA, NSA, FBI, DHS, and TSA, all of which played significant roles. The official declined to offer specifics, but made it clear that the CIA and NSA, for instance, gathered intelligence for the investigation “in real time” using “the intelligence tools available.”

Several counterterrorism sources say the CIA provided critical help in identifying and tracking people involved in Pakistan. “The Brits gave us a number or a name,” says one U.S. counterterrorism source speaking on condition of anonymity, “and we came back and said, ‘Here are these email addresses, these phone numbers, and more names.’”

On Aug. 6, 2006, authorities grew increasingly concerned when they monitored Ali, the cell leader, looking up timetables for transatlantic flights departing between August and October 2006. Adding to their worry: several of the plotters were seeking new British passports, apparently so they would have no trace of prior travel to Pakistan, making it easier to board flights to the United States. The passports had not been issued, but expedited applications were pending. Several of the men also had applied for loans they allegedly never intended to repay, a tactic used by previous terrorist cells.

The next day, Aug. 7, according to officials at the Department of Homeland Security, there was a tense moment when they feared an attack might be underway. Authorities discovered that a person on board an American Airlines flight from Heathrow to Boston was on the No Fly list. Secretary Chertoff says, “The first concern that we had was, have we either missed something, or has someone decided on their own they are going to accelerate an element of the plot and we therefore, we are perhaps a little bit late?” The airliner was sent back mid-flight to London; it turned out to be a false alarm.

On Aug. 8, 2006, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush was briefed on the case. Chertoff would not disclose the President’s specific comments, but told Dateline, “Generally, the president's concerns were, first and foremost, ‘Let's make sure no lives get lost.’”

Counterterrorism sources say that, by that time, U.S. intelligence services were tracking the movements of Rashid Rauf, the suspected al-Qaida point man in Pakistan, and officials saw indications that Rauf might be heading into the tribal areas of Pakistan, where they feared he could evade capture.

According to counterterrorism investigators, the situation created some friction. U.S. officials did not want to risk losing Rauf and pressed the Pakistani authorities to arrest him immediately. British officials preferred to wait a few more days to gather more intelligence and evidence. The Pakistanis found themselves in the middle, says a former senior Pakistani official with knowledge of the investigation, who described the pressure from the U.S. as “enormous.”

On Aug. 9, the case reached critical mass: bugs planted in the terrorist safe house picked up audio of one of the men recording a suicide video, one of six such videos investigators eventually recovered. That evening, British police learned that Pakistani authorities had arrested Rauf. British officials feared that if the plotters found out about Rauf’s arrest, it could serve as a “go signal” to trigger an attack. “Given how high the stakes were, you couldn't second guess,” says Andy Hayman.

Overnight, British police arrested more than two dozen suspects, including the eight whose trial just concluded. Several were let go. Four other men are expected to face trial in the coming months on conspiracy murder charges. Ali’s wife, Cossar, was also charged with failure to disclose information about the plot. She is awaiting trial.

On the witness stand at the trial just ended, the defendants claimed that they never intended to kill anyone, only to set off a bomb inside an airline terminal as a publicity stunt, and then release those suicide tapes as propaganda to draw attention to “the plight of Muslims.” They also said they considered other targets in Britain, including the Parliament. But they were hard-pressed to explain several contradictions. For one, they claimed to disavow al-Qaida’s techniques; at the same time as they said they wanted the explosive to bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida, so they would be taken seriously.

During the trial, all the defendants except Gulzar pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Three – Ali, Sarwar, and Hussain – pleaded guilty to an additional charge of conspiring to cause explosions. Those guilty pleas did not stop the jury from convicting the three men of murder conspiracy.

Jury's reaction came as a surprise to many

Still, many counterterrorism officials were surprised by the jury’s indecision, given what they believed was one of the strongest terrorism cases to date. Some suggested that the case would have been even stronger if prosecutors had been able to introduce intercept evidence. Currently, wiretaps cannot be introduced in British courts. In February this year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he supports changing that law.

The mixed verdicts also have prompted some finger pointing in Britain, with critics accusing the U.S. government of forcing British police to shut down the operation too soon. The critics speculate that given more time, authorities could have obtained more evidence.

But both U.S. and British officials insist that the investigation was a success because it broke up the plot. In a televised statement last week, British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith thanked the police and security services for saving “countless lives.”

Could bin Laden himself have signed off on the alleged airline plot?

Back in January 2006, bin Laden did warn Americans of major attacks in the works: “And you will witness them, in your own land, as soon as preparations are complete.” It is not clear if he was referring to the alleged airline plot, but counterterrorism experts believe that is a possibility.

“I can't tell you whether operationally it went up to bin Laden,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff says, “but I think the links to the al-Qaida network are, in my mind, pretty clear.”

For now, British and U.S. authorities are satisfied they put all the main players out of action, at least in Britain.

In Pakistan, it is a different story. The one suspect arrested in the case there, Rashid Rauf, escaped from custody last December. “Unfortunately, he is now no longer in the custody of Pakistan government,” Pakistan’s former interior minister Aftab Sherpao told Dateline.

A spokesman for Rauf’s wife’s family in Pakistan told Dateline they do not know where Rauf is and they insist he is innocent. “They say he's not involved in this.”

U.S. officials are circumspect. Asked about Rauf, Secretary Chertoff says: “There I think we're getting into an issue that I probably can't get into.”

As for others involved in training and orchestrating the alleged airline plot from Pakistan, another senior administration official says they have been identified. “They could be in Pakistan still. Some might be in other countries. There are efforts underway to capture them.”

Richard Greenberg is Supervising Investigative Producer for NBC News, Paul Cruickshank is a Fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security, and Chris Hansen is Correspondent for Dateline NBC.

NBC News Senior Investigative Producer Robert Windrem contributed to this report.
© 2007 MSNBC Interactive