Sept. 11's Smoking Gun: The Many Faces of Saeed Sheikh
by Paul Thompson
His actions prove the involvement of Pakistan's secret service in the Sept. 11 attacks, and suggest a possible CIA role as well
September 4, 2002
Just who is Saeed Sheikh? He has gone by many names and had many roles. Most recently he made headlines in July 2002 when he was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Ironically, he may be innocent of that crime while guilty of far more serious crimes. He is deeply implicated in the Sept. 11 attacks, yet the mass media and Pakistani and US governments have obscured his role and his background, and soon will hang him. The cover-up may have something to do with the fact that he wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Sept. 11 hijackers at the orders of Pakistan's secret service, the ISI.
The ISI: "The Invisible Government" [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/27/01]
To understand Saeed, it is necessary to first understand the Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI plays a much more significant role in the Pakistani government, than do its counterparts in other countries. Time Magazine recently noted, "Even by the shadowy standards of spy agencies, the ISI is notorious. It is commonly branded 'a state within the state,' or Pakistan's 'invisible government.'" [Time, 5/6/02] The ISI grew into its present form during the war between the Soviet Union and mujaheddin guerrillas in Afghanistan in the 1980's. The CIA thought the Afghan war could be Russia's own costly Vietnam War, and they funneled billions to the mujaheddin resistance to keep them a thorn in Russia's side. The strategy worked: Soviet soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later, partly due to the costs of the war.
But the costs to keep the mujaheddin fighting were staggering, with estimates ranging between $6 billion and $40 billion. [New York Times, 8/24/98, Nation, 2/15/99] While a substantial portion of this amount came from the CIA and the Saudi Arabian government, who were both funneling the money through the ISI, much of the cost was deferred by Afghanistan's opium trade. The Sydney Morning Herald noted, "opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan's northern tribal belt and adjoining Afghanistan were a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA cooperation. It succeeded in turning some of the Soviet troops into addicts. Heroin sales in Europe and the US, carried out through an elaborate web of deception, transport networks, couriers and payoffs, offset the cost of the decade-long war in Afghanistan." [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/27/01] Afghan opium production ballooned from 250 tons in 1982 at the start of the war to 2,000 tons in 1991 just after its end. The Minneapolis Star Tribune observed, "If their local allies were involved in narcotics trafficking" - the ISI and their allies in Afghanistan - "it didn't trouble CIA." [Star Tribune, 9/30/01]
After the Afghan war ended, the ISI continued to profit from opium. In 1999, The United Nations Drug Control Programme estimated that the ISI was pulling in around $2.5 billion annually from the sale of illegal drugs. [Times of India, 11/29/99] The drug trade helped unite the ISI and Osama bin Laden, who was said to have taken a 15% cut of the Afghan drug trade money in exchange for protecting smugglers and laundering their profits. [Star Tribune, 9/30/01]
It has been argued that the ISI actually controls the rest of Pakistan's government, instead of the other way around. [Guardian, 4/5/02] By 1994, the ISI had created their own puppet government in Afghanistan: the Taliban. The Taliban, which was originally a movement consisting of numerous Muslim radicals studying in Pakistan, had been recruited by the ISI and molded into a fanatical force that conquered Afghanistan's capital by 1996. CNN reported, "The Taliban are widely alleged to be the creation of Pakistan's military intelligence [the ISI]. Experts say that explains the Taliban's swift military successes." [CNN, 10/5/96] Even in early 2001, a leading US expert on South Asia would claim that the Taliban were still "on the payroll of the ISI." [Times of India, 3/7/01] The ISI didn't create the Taliban simply for strategic reasons; they shared the Taliban's extreme radical vision. As the Wall Street Journal remarked in Nov. 2001, "Despite their clean chins and pressed uniforms, the ISI men are as deeply fundamentalist as any bearded fanatic; the ISI created the Taliban as their own instrument and still supports it." [Asia Times, 11/15/01]
Saeed Sheikh would eventually become deeply involved in the world of the ISI, as well as al-Qaeda. But initially he seemed an unlikely candidate for a career in espionage and terrorism. He was born in Britain with the name Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the son of a wealthy Pakistani clothing manufacturer. He grew up in London, attending the best private schools and performing brilliantly. He studied mathematics and statistics at the London School of Economics. While still at school, he started a successful shares and equities business. [South Asian Outlook, 3/02] In college he was a chess champion, world class arm wrestler, and martial arts expert - a rare combination of physical and mental prowess. [Rediff, 2/6/02]
His life took a turn when he volunteered for charity work in Bosnia in late 1992. The Bosnian war was raging, and he saw atrocities committed by Serbians on Bosnian Muslims. He returned to Britain a committed Muslim radical. Because of his impressive abilities in economics and mathematics, as well as fluency in English and complete understanding of Western society, he was a very valuable asset to any terrorist group. [ABC News, 2/7/02]
In 1993 he emerged in Pakistan as a member of a militant group fighting for the liberation of Kashmir from India. Pakistan has been fighting India for years over control of Kashmir, and it appears Saeed was put on the ISI payroll around this time, to help the Pakistani cause in Kashmir. [ABC News, 2/7/02] In 1994, Saeed trained at the Khalid bin Waleed training camp in Afghanistan, where he learnt how to handle firearms. He must have developed close ties with al-Qaeda while training there, if not before. The London Times reported that by the time he went to jail later that year, he was known as Osama bin Ladens "favored son." [London Times, 8/21/02] There is also speculation that he was a financial manager for bin Laden during the time he was based in Sudan. [Guardian, 10/1/01, BBC, 10/1/01]
Prison and Escape
Saeed Sheikh was arrested in India in 1994 while on a kidnapping mission designed to trade Western tourists for Kashmiri separatists. [ABC News, 2/7/02] The ISI paid his legal fees, but he was nonetheless sentenced to a long prison term in an Indian jail. [Washington Post, 5/3/02] While in prison, his natural abilities soon allowed him to become the leader of the jails large Muslim population. By his own admission, "he lived practically like a Mafia don." When he was later transferred to a new facility in 1998, he quickly established himself as the Muslim leader there as well. [London Times, 8/21/02]
In December 1999, terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft and flew it to Kandahar, Afghanistan. After an eight-day standoff, the 155 hostages were released in exchange for three Pakistani terrorists held by India, one of whom was Saeed. [BBC, 12/31/99] He must have had previous contact with al-Qaeda because the hijacking appeared to have been largely funded and carried out by that organization. [CNN, 6/13/02, New York Times, 12/6/01] Perhaps al Qaeda rescued him for his financial expertise, because its previous financial chief, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, had been caught in September of 1998. [Washington Post, 9/15/01]
According to Newsweek, "Sheikh then traveled to Pakistan, where he lived openlyand opulentlyin a wealthy Lahore neighborhood. US sources say he did little to hide his connections to terrorist organizations, and even attended swanky parties attended by senior Pakistani government officials." This led to speculation by the US government that he was a "protected asset" of the ISI. [Newsweek, 3/13/02] Pakistani police later claimed that he had spent some of this time serving as a guerrilla warfare instructor at training facilities in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 2/18/02]
The Money Trail
By now, the al-Qaeda 9/11 plot was in motion. Tens of thousands of dollars had already been wired to some of the 9/11 hijackers in the US before Saeed was released from jail. [Newsweek, 12/2/01] But starting around June 2000, Saeed appears to have become the main conduit for money to the hijackers. On October 1 2001 the Guardian reported, "US investigators believe they have found the 'smoking gun' linking Osama bin Laden to the September 11 terrorist attacks, with the discovery of financial evidence showing money transfers between the hijackers and a Bin Laden aide in the United Arab Emirates. The man at the center of the financial web is believed to be Sheikh Saeed, also known as Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad..." [Guardian, 10/1/01] That same day, a BBC report also implicated Saeed in the financing of the 9/11 terrorist operation. [BBC, 10/1/01] But it wasn't until October 6, some 5 days later, that CNN mentioned Saeed's involvement in the movement of the funds. Quoting "a senior-level US government source," CNN reported, "US investigators now believe Sheik Syed, using the alias Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad, sent more than $100,000 from Pakistan to Mohammed Atta." The CNN report also confirmed that the Saeed Sheikh who wired the money to the terrorists was in fact the same Saeed Sheikh who had been released from the Indian prison in 1999. It reported, "Syed would still be in prison were it not for the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814." [CNN, 10/6/01]
The US government indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui on December 11 2001 provided more details about the transfers. "Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a/k/a Mustafa Ahmed" sent money to a Florida SunTrust bank account jointly held by Atta and al-Shehhi. $109,910 was wired to Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi in 2000. The money was sent on June 29, July 19, August 7, August 30, and September 18. [MSNBC, 12/11/01] Atta, who received most of the money, "would obtain money orders -- a few thousand dollars at a time -- to distribute to others involved in the plot in the months before the hijackings." [CNN, 10/1/01]
Master of Disguise
Saeed was ideal for this task because of his ability to trick authorities and move money undetected. Saeed used a variety of names for himself to sow confusion, and since it is difficult to spell Arabic words in the Roman alphabet, the problem was only compounded (this article uses Saeed Shiekh because it is closest to his born name; but Omar Sheikh and Sheikh Saeed are also used quite often). Consider the different names he has been referred to in newspaper stories: Mustafa Ahmad, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Mustafa Muhammed Ahmed, Sheik Syed, Mustafa Sheikh Saeed, Ahmad Umar Sheikh, Ahmed Omar Sayed Sheikh, Umar Sheikh, Sheik Omar Saeed, Omar Saiid Sheikh, Sheikh Omar, Shaykh Saiid, etc... He had numerous credit cards, false passports, social security cards, drivers licenses, a bewildering trail of e-mail accounts and cell phone numbers, and so on. [Rediff, 2/13/02] His ISI connections enabled him to get false passports for people. [Hindu, 5/13/02] He opened bank accounts using many of his name variations, and on occasion he would even use completely different names such as Chaudhry Bashir and Imtiaz Siddique. [The News, 2/13/02]
Al-Qaeda's "Chief Financial Officer" [Newsweek, 11/11/01]
This "financial guru," as the FBI have called him, served other fiscal roles for al-Qaeda. The FBI believes he assisted Saudi charities that were secretly funneling millions of dollars to al-Qaeda. [Newsweek, 11/11/01] For instance, the FBI picked up his trail in the Dublin offices of the Islamic Relief Agency, a Saudi-backed charity previously linked to bin Laden's 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa. [Newsweek, 11/11/01] He had long and close contacts with the Group of the Impoverished, a US-based "charity" now listed as a terrorist group. Its members are suspected of at least 13 fire bombings and 17 murders, as well as theft and credit-card frauds. He also has been connected to the Baladullah Estate in Fresno, California, and various groups in Colorado, New York State and the Caribbean. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02]
Take the Money and Run
But no doubt his most sensitive role was funding the Sept. 11 hijackers. The New York Times reported that "Mustafa Ahmad" sent about $325,000 of the $500,000 to $600,000 the hijackers received from overseas. [New York Times, 7/10/02] On June 25 2001, Saeed procured Visa and ATM cards for Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, one of the hijackers, and shipped them from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Florida. [MSNBC, 12/11/01] It appears Banihammad was in Dubai at the same bank on the same day as Saeed. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/02] Then, in the days right before September 11, a flurry of money transfers between Saeed in the UAE and the hijackers occurred. According to the Moussaoui indictment, between September 6 and 10, $26,315 was wired from the hijackers back to "Mustafa Ahmad" - leftover money from the September 11 plot. [MSNBC, 12/11/01, Guardian, 10/1/01] On September 11, in the hours before the attacks, he transferred $40,871 from his UAE bank accounts to his Visa card, and caught a plane flight from the UAE to Pakistan. There are records of him making 6 ATM withdraws in Karachi on Sept. 13, and then his trail goes cold. [MSNBC, 12/11/01]
Enter General Ahmad and the ISI
The majority of stories connecting Saeed to the money transfers were reported between October 1 and October 8 2001. [Washington Post, 10/7/01] For instance, on October 8, CNN used Saeed's complete born name, "Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh" and again reported that he had used "a pseudonym to wire $100,000 to suspected hijacker Mohammad Atta..." [CNN, 10/8/01] But then from that day on, stories connecting Saeed to the hijackers became increasingly scarce. No doubt this had to do with another story being reported on October 9 in Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper. Dawn reported, "Director General of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed has been replaced after the FBI investigators established credible links between him and Umar Sheikh, one of the three militants released in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane in 1999... Informed sources said there were enough indications with the US intelligence agencies that it was at Gen. Mahmud's instruction that Sheikh had transferred 100,000 US dollars into the account of Mohammed Atta..." [Dawn, 10/9/01] An Indian newspaper then published a story a few hours later revealing that Indian intelligence had been instrumental in helping to establish the connection. [Times of India, 10/9/01] Yet this explosive story was not mentioned at all in the US, outside of one short piece in the Wall Street Journal, which said, "The US authorities ... confirm[ed] the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of General Mahmud." [Wall Street Journal, 10/10/01]
Why the silence on such an important story? No doubt the implications were too disturbing. If General Ahmad ordered Saeed to give money to Atta, then what other conclusion can be drawn than that the Pakistani ISI had helped plan and fund the September 11 attacks on the US? Pakistan is still one of the US's closest allies and in October 2001 their support was vitally needed to conduct the war against Afghanistan. Who knows what the political fallout would have been had the US blamed Pakistan for terrorism at that time. But the Saeed connection was hardly the only evidence that Pakistan was assisting bin Laden and knew about the attacks. What's even worse is that some of this evidence opened the possibility that people in the US government knew as well.
Incriminating the ISI
While Saeed was busy transferring money, it appears Osama bin Laden was getting ill. On July 2 2001, an Indian newspaper reported that "bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), if not of [Pakistani President] Musharraf himself." [SARPA, 7/2/01] An Indian newspaper might be biased on this, but after Sept. 11 the highly respected intelligence newsletter, Jane's Intelligence Digest, later reported the same story, and came close to confirming it: "None of [these details] will be unfamiliar to US intelligence operatives who have been compiling extensive reports on these alleged activities." [Jane's Intelligence Digest, 9/20/01] CBS later reported bin Laden had emergency medical care in Pakistan the day before Sept. 11. He was spirited into a military hospital in Rawalpindi for kidney dialysis treatment. Pakistani military forces guarded him. They also moved out all the regular staff in the urology department and sent in a secret team to replace them. [CBS News, 01/28/02] The Jane's article added, "it is becoming clear that both the Taliban and al-Qaeda would have found it difficult to have continued functioning - including the latter group's terrorist activities - without substantial aid and support from Islamabad [Pakistan]." [Jane's Intelligence Digest, 9/20/01]
On Sept. 9, in what was perhaps a preemptive defensive strike against an expected post-9/11 backlash, two men posing as journalists assassinated Northern Alliance leader General Ahmed Shah Massoud. His killers were thought to have been al-Qaeda agents, but they may have had other connections as well. [BBC, 9/10/01, BBC, 9/10/01] Though it was not widely reported, the Northern Alliance released a statement the next day, stating, "Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani ISI and Osama bin Laden." [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/01, Newsday, 9/15/01, Reuters, 10/4/01] The Taliban's army had been massing for an attack against the Northern Alliance for weeks, but didn't attack until hours after Massoud's assassination. A large portion of this force was actually Pakistani. [Time, 8/4/02]
Another bit of evidence, suggesting that the ISI had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks, was just recently reported on September 7 by the Independent of London. It revealed that the Taliban's foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, had learned in July 2001 that bin Laden was planning a "huge attack" on targets inside the U.S.. Fearing that such an attack would provoke a massive retaliation against Afghanistan by the U.S., the foreign minister attempted to warn the US and the UN. He had learned of the planned terrorist operation from the leader of the rebel Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). [Independent, 9/7/02] Given the ISI's assistance to bin Laden and its extensive ties to the Taliban and the IMU, how could the agency not have had foreknowledge of the attacks?
A Curious Visit
Another possible reason to bury the Ahmad-Saeed-Atta story was that Ahmad may have been in communication with the US government about bin Laden's plans. On September 4 2001, ISI Director Mahmud Ahmad arrived in Washington, D.C.. On September 10 a Pakistani newspaper reported the visit, saying that it had "triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council" as well as meetings with CIA Director George Tenet, unspecified officials at the White House and the Pentagon, and his "most important meeting" with Mark Grossman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The article suggested that "of course, Osama bin Laden" was the focus of some discussions. Prophetically, the article added, "What added interest to his visit is the history of such visits. Last time [his] predecessor was here, the domestic [Pakistani] politics turned topsy-turvy within days. That this is not the first visit by Mahmud in the last three months shows the urgency of the ongoing parleys." [Karachi News, 9/10/01] In May 2001, both CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had visited the region. It's not known if they met with Ahmad or anyone else in the ISI, but according to credible news reports, Tenet had "unusually long" consultations with President Musharraf. It is also worth noting that Armitage is known for his "large circle of friends in the Pakistani military and ISI" [SAPRA, 5/22/01] as well as his connections to the Iran-Contra affair.
Of course everyone knows that politics did turn very "topsy-turvy" one day after the Karachi News article on September 10. But what many don't know is that on the morning of September 11 General Ahmad was at a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Senator Bob Graham (D) and Representative Porter Goss (R). The meeting was said to have lasted at least until the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Goss is a self admitted 10-year veteran of the CIA's clandestine operations wing; Graham is the CIA's best ally in the Senate [Washington Post, 5/18/02] (both since have been named the heads of the joint House-Senate investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, which has made headlines for saying there was no "smoking gun" indicating that the government had sufficient foreknowledge to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks). [Washington Post, 7/11/02] Also present at the meeting were Senator John Kyl (R) and the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi (note that all or virtually all of the people in this meeting also met General Ahmad in Pakistan a few weeks earlier [Salon, 9/14/01]). Senator Graham later said of the meeting: "We were talking about terrorism, specifically terrorism generated from Afghanistan," and the New York Times mentioned that bin Laden was specifically being discussed. [Vero Beach Press Journal, 9/12/01, Salon, 9/14/01, New York Times, 6/3/02] The fact that these people were meeting at the time of the attacks is a strange coincidence at the very least, not to mention the topic of their conversation!
On September 12 and 13, General Ahmad met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Senator Joseph Biden, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. An agreement on Pakistan's collaboration in the new "war on terror" was negotiated between Ahmad and Armitage. [Miami Herald, 9/16/01] All these meetings coordinated Pakistan's response to September 11. [New York Times, 9/13/01, Reuters, 9/13/01, Associated Press, 9/13/01] Isn't it strange that the terms of Pakistan's commitment to fight al-Qaeda were negotiated with the man who had given orders to send $100,000 to the Sept. 11 hijackers?
Clearly, Pakistan and the US had secrets to hide, even if they were only embarrassing coincidences. The US received warnings of an al-Qaeda attack from an astounding number of countries, including Britain [Sunday Herald, 5/19/02, London Times, 6/14/02], Egypt [AP, 12/7/01], Russia [Guardian, 9/22/01, Agence France-Presse, 9/16/01], Israel [Telegraph, 9/16/01, Los Angeles Times, 9/20/01], Jordan [International Herald Tribune, 5/21/02, Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/02], Italy [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/02], Argentina [Forward, 5/31/02], and Germany [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 9/11/01, Washington Post, 9/14/01]. Yet, supposedly no warning from Pakistan, a close ally in the best position to know. No wonder General Ahmad was forced into retirement in October 2001 for his role in funding the Sept. 11 hijackers. [Wall Street Journal, 10/10/01] Saeed was a vital link connecting Ahmad to al-Qaeda. What would have happened if he had told what he knew?
The Cover-up Begins
It was not enough to simply drop the Ahmad-Saeed-Atta story - a different explanation would be needed to replace it. Even prior to the revelation about General Ahmad on October 8, there was confusion over who Mustafa Ahmad / Saeed Sheikh was. On October 3, Newsday reported, "The United States has said that Mustafa Ahmad is an alias used by Shaykh Sai-id, who has been identified as a high-ranking bin Laden financial lieutenant. In the wake of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania in 1998, Tanzanian officials arrested and charged with murder an Egyptian named Mustafa Ahmed. After alleging that he had confessed to being a high-level al-Qaeda operative, Tanzania then released him without explanation a few months later, according to news reports at the time." [Newsday, 10/3/01] The Sunday Times wrote on October 7, "Who was he? Why did he leave? His name is thought be Mustafa Ahmad. Intelligence agencies have files on him with links to Bin Laden that go back a decade or more." [Sunday Times, 10/7/01] But "a decade or more" is before the real Saeed became involved in terrorism.
Even after October 8, the Saeed / Mustafa Ahmad story was still occasionally reported. [New York Times, 10/15/01, Los Angeles Times, 10/20/01] But then on December 18, the Associated Press casually mentioned the following individual as someone the FBI was looking for: "Shaihk Saiid, also known as Sa'd al-Sharif and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hisawi. A Saudi, Saiid, 33, is bin Laden's brother-in-law and financial chief. Saiid has been with bin Laden since his time in Sudan. Saiid allegedly wired money to Atta in preparation for the Sept. 11 attacks, according to court documents." [AP, 12/18/01] Note that this new Saudi Saeed contradicts both the previous Egyptian Saeed and the "decade or more" Saeed, as well as the real Saeed. However, this new Saeed identity didn't stick. The FBI failed to give more information on him, or post a picture of him anywhere, or put him on any "most wanted list," or "seeking information" list. By January 27 2002, the Telegraph was connecting the real Saeed with Atta again: "Omar Sheikh, 28, a former mathematics student at the LSE [London School of Economics], is said to have been linked to last week's drive-by shooting in Calcutta that killed five policemen. He has also been named as one of the key financiers of Mohammed Atta." [Telegraph, 1/27/02]
Back to Kashmir
After September 11, Saeed lived openly in the Pakistani city of Lahore. He was "frequently seen" at local parties hosted by government leaders and "made no secret" of his whereabouts. In January 2002, he celebrated the birth of his baby at a party he hosted in the city. [USA Today, 2/25/02]
But at the same time, he was secretly involved in more terrorist activity. His terrorist organization, the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, staged attacks on Kashmir parliament on October 1 2001 and India's parliament on December 13. Then, on January 22 2002, they shot up the American Center in Kolkata, India. "Many and varied sources have told Washington officials that in all these attacks, Saeed Sheikh had logistical and operational support from the ISI in Karachi and Islamabad. ISI also helped him form and operate the Jaish-e-Muhammed Muhammed's Army for his terrorist campaigns in Kashmir." [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02] It has been suggested that after September 11 he acted as a "go-between" for bin Laden and the ISI, which makes perfect sense given his involvement in both groups. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02] He claimed to have met with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the days immediately after Sept. 11, according to Pakistani investigators (though it was not reported why). [Washington Post, 2/18/02, London Times, 2/25/02] Other suspects arrested in Pakistan also described Saeed's links with associates of bin Laden. [Washington Post, 2/18/02] Furthermore, "It is believed he helped produce bin Laden's latest taped interview" around February. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02]
In November 2001, a US grand jury secretly indicted Saeed Sheikh with the 1994 kidnapping. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02] Investigators no doubt brought up this old crime so Saeed could be extradited to the US. But since Saeed escaped from prison at the end of 1999, why didn't US officials indict him a year or more earlier for his 1994 kidnapping of US citizens?
Pakistani President Musharraf must have decided that Saeed knew too much, and needed to die before he could be extradited to the US. On January 23 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Pakistan. [Guardian, 1/25/02] According to the Washington Post, "At the time of his abduction, Pearl was investigating links between Pakistani extremists and Richard C. Reid, the British man accused of trying to blow up an American airliner with explosives hidden in his sneakers. As part of that probe, Pearl may have strayed into areas involving Pakistan's secret intelligence organizations." [Washington Post, 2/23/02] It was also alleged that he had been focusing more generally on the role played by the US in training and backing the ISI and connections between the ISI and Muslim radicals. [Gulf News, 3/25/02, Guardian, 4/5/02]
Around January 31 2002, Daniel Pearl was murdered by his kidnappers. Police investigators say "there were at least eight to 10 people present on the scene," and at least 15 who participated in his kidnapping and murder. "Despite issuing a series of political demands shortly after Pearl's abduction four weeks ago, it now seems clear that the kidnappers planned to kill Pearl all along." [Washington Post, 2/23/02] Musharraf could get rid of a meddlesome reporter asking too much about the ISI. Musharraf even brazenly stated, "Perhaps Daniel Pearl was over-intrusive. A mediaperson should be aware of the dangers of getting into dangerous areas. Unfortunately, he got over-involved'' [Hindu, 3/8/02] in "intelligence games." [Washington Post, 5/3/02] At the same time he eliminated Pearl, Musharraf could frame Saeed for the deed to make sure he would keep quiet about the ISI's Sept. 11 connections.
The Net Closes
To capture Saeed, it appears the police simply rounded up all of his family members and likely threatened to kill or harm them unless Saeed gave himself up. [AP, 2/9/02] "Senior police sources in Lahore have said that Omar swapped his surrender to the police with an immediate release of all of his relatives from the police custody in various Pakistani cities." [Karachi News, 2/13/02] On February 5, he turned himself in, not to the police, but to the ISI. For the next week, Saeed and the ISI worked "out a deal for how little he would say about the ISI's support for terrorist groups in Kashmir and Pakistan in exchange for not being extradited to the United States. Neither the Pakistani police nor the US Embassy nor the FBI who were in Islamabad investigating the kidnapping were informed that Saeed was being 'held' by the ISI during this period. The deal done, a brazen Saeed Sheikh gave himself up to police, telling them of Pearl's capture but misleading them on every possible fact including his ISI linkage." [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02] When asked by the FBI about his connection to the ISI, he replied, "I will not discuss this subject... I do not want my family to be killed." [Newsweek, 3/13/02]
His surrender was made public knowledge on February 13. [Newsweek, 3/11/02] He then confessed to the murder of Daniel Pearl. Yet, as Newsweek put it, he remained, "confident, even cocky." He told his interrogators that he was "sure" he wouldn't be extradited to the US and said he wouldn't serve more than "three or four years" in a Pakistan prison. [Newsweek, 3/13/02] Others were arrested for the murder as well; many of whom also had connections to both the ISI and al-Qaeda, including Khalid Khawaja, who had "never hidden his links with Osama bin Laden, " and who at "one time . . . used to fly Osama's personal plane." [PakNews, 2/11/02]
But Saeed and the others were tricked. It's true that Musharraf had no intention to extradite Saeed to the US. The US ambassador even reported that Musharraf privately said, "I'd rather hang him myself" than extradite him. [Washington Post, 3/28/02] But it was simply too risky to keep him alive; his connections to both the ISI and the September 11 hijackers were too obvious. According to the Guardian, Saeed "is widely believed in Pakistan to be an experienced ISI 'asset.'" [Washington Post, 5/3/02] Additionally, as The Washington Post put it, "The [ISI] is a house of horrors waiting to break open. Saeed has tales to tell." [Washington Post, 3/28/02] So the prosecution sought the death sentence for Saeed, not a light sentence. Saeed withdrew his confession. On April 5, in an article titled, "A Certain Outcome For Pearl Trial: Death Sentences Expected, Despite Lack of Evidence," NBC reported, "Some in Pakistan's government also are very concerned about what Saeed might say in court. His organization and other militant groups here have ties to Pakistan's secret intelligence agency [the ISI]. There are concerns he could try to implicate that government agency in the Pearl case, or other questionable dealings that could be at the very least embarrassing, or worse." [MSNBC, 4/5/02]
Given all of the above, one might think that the story of Daniel Pearl's murderer's ties to both the ISI and the Sept. 11 hijackers would be the subject of front page headlines. After all, by the end of March all of the events of the story had already been reported in bits and pieces in mainstream newspapers. It was just a matter of tying it all together. But one would be wrong - there were no headlines. Amazingly, given everything that had already been reported about him, most coverage about Saeed in the wake of the Daniel Pearl murder failed to mention his ties to the ISI, much less those to al-Qaeda. On March 3, US Secretary of State Colin Powell ruled out any links between "elements of the ISI" and the murderers of reporter Daniel Pearl. [Dawn, 3/3/02] The Guardian was a rare voice calling Powell on this obvious lie. They called Powell's comment "shocking", given the overwhelming evidence that the main suspect, Saeed Sheikh, worked for the ISI: "If he was extradited to Washington and decided to talk, the entire story would unravel. His family are fearful. They think he might be tried by a summary court and executed to prevent the identity of his confederates being revealed." [Guardian, 4/5/02] A week before Powell's comment, even US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "acknowledged reports that Omar Sheikh may have been an 'asset'" for the ISI. [London Times, 2/25/02]
It's as if Saeed suddenly became three separate persons: Saeed, the accused murder of Daniel Pearl, Saeed, the al-Qaeda "finance chief" and "central financial figure" in September 11 [Washington Post, 1/7/02], and Saeed, ISI agent. At best, any given article tied together two aspects of Saeed's life, but not all three. For instance, ABC News brought up Saeed's links to al-Qaeda. [ABC News, 2/7/02] The New York Times brought up his links to the ISI. [New York Times, 2/25/02] The Sunday Times had a remarkable story entitled, "Pearl Murder Case Briton Was a Double Agent," that tied him to both al-Qaeda and the ISI. But even that story failed to connect Saeed with funding the September 11attacks. [Sunday Times, 4/21/02] The Associated Press reported, "Western intelligence sources believe Saeed sent $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings" in a story on his links in the Daniel Pearl case, but didn't report on ISI connections. [AP, 2/9/02] A little noticed Pittsburgh Tribune-Review brought together many interesting elements, but not all. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02]
Why does the media fail to understand Saeed? Certainly the confusion over his many aliases plays a part. But there is a deeper reason, the same reason that caused Colin Powell to contradict Donald Rumsfeld. If you bring all these threads together, it demonstrates that elements within the ISI were involved in the September 11 plot, and perhaps Pakistan's President as well.
General Ahmad is Replaced by an Underworld Don
The one place where the complete Saeed story had at one time been reported was in India - not surprising considering India and Pakistan are traditional enemies. The most notable news report was of course the Oct. 9, 2001 story of General Mahmud ordering Saeed to wire money to Mohamed Atta. But there were no further reports on the Ahmad connection, as the Indian press seemingly shied away from the geopolitical ramifications of implicating the entire ISI in Sept. 11.
On January 22 - one day before Pearl was kidnapped - the Times of India reported that Indian intelligence had "informed [the] FBI that the ransom money taken by Dubai [United Arab Emirates] underworld don Aftab Ansari to release a Kolkata shoe baron was used to finance Mohammed Atta." [Times of India, 1/22/02] According to the news report, Saeed had asked the "underworld don" in early August 2001 if he would give $100,000 for a "noble cause." Then on August 19, Saeed e-mailed Ansari, informing him, "The money that was sent has been passed on." [Times of India, 2/14/02]
Then, on February 13, the Times of India cast doubt that Gen. Ahmad was connected to the Sept. 11 plot. It recalled that there were earlier allegations Ahmed ordered Saeed to wire $100,000 to Mohamed Atta. But then, contradicting its October article while providing no new evidence, it stated, There was, however, no evidence to indicate whether Ahmed was aware that this amount was meant for the terrorist strikes in the US." [Times of India, 2/13/2002] The next day, in discussing the Ansari case, the same newspaper pointed out, Interestingly, the mode of communication adopted by [Saeed and Ansari] is similar to that used by Mohammad Atta and other al-Qaeda members to carry out the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US. This gives credence to the perception that Ansari had arranged $100,000 for the terror attacks on America." [Times of India, 2/14/02] So Gen. Ahmad is let off the hook, and replaced by Ansari.
But there are problems with this new explanation. First, the similarity it mentions is simply that both Saeed and Atta communicated to others via e-mail. Second, the two Times of India articles failed to mention Ansaris deep connections with the ISI. Ansari had close links to the militant Pakistani group Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is regarded widely as "a creature of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)." [Pioneer, 1/25/02] Both Saeed and Ansari collaborated in a Jan. 22, 2002 terrorist attack that had been directed under the guidance of the ISI. [Hindu, 5/13/02] Ansari clearly worked for and took orders from the ISI leadership. [Times of India, 1/22/02, India Today, 2/25/02] Finally, the $100,000 connected to Ansari was a different $100,000 than that connected to General Ahmad, which was sent one year earlier. Far from clearing General Ahmad, the Ansari story only served to further prove the connections between Saeed, the ISI, and the hijackers, and showed that Saeed sent the hijackers $100,000 more money than previously reported.
So efforts to eliminate Saeed and forget the past moved forward. In late February, Time reported that the second highest Taliban official in US custody, Mullah Haji Abdul Samat Khaksar, had been waiting for months to be interviewed by the CIA. Even two weeks after Time informed US officials that he wanted to talk, no one had bothered to give him a proper interview. Time noted that "he claims to have information about al-Qaeda links to the ISI." [Time, 2/25/02] In March, the ISI pressured an important Pakistani newspaper to fire four journalists. The editor fled the country in response. These journalists had reported on connections between Saeed and recent attacks on the Indian parliament in Delhi and Kashmir. [Washington Post, 3/10/02]
When the verdict came down on July 15, Saeed, as the supposed "mastermind," of course was sentenced to death, and three others were given life in prison. The trial turned out to be a mockery of justice. It was decided by a secret "anti-terrorism" court known for its handpicked judges, [MSNBC, 4/5/02] and took place in a bunker underneath a prison. Furthermore, no reporters were allowed to attend. "Fear lay heavily over the court," reported one paper. [Independent, 7/16/02] The venue had to change three times because of bomb threats and security concerns. [BBC, 5/7/02, BBC, 7/16/02] The trial judge also changed three times. The trial, by law, had to finish within seven days, yet it took over three months. [BBC, 7/16/02] "Forensic scientists initially refused to attend the exhumation of the court" for fear they would be murdered. Saeed himself threatened the judge: "I will see whether who wants to kill me will kill me first, or get himself killed." [Independent, 7/16/02] The key witness was a taxi driver. Even Pakistani officials admitted that his testimony was doubtful, given that the "taxi driver" turned out to be a head constable policeman. Immediately after the trial, the government announced new suspects and new evidence that contradicted the Saeed verdict. [Guardian, 7/18/02] One of the new suspects was said by Pakistani police and intelligence officials to be the true mastermind of Pearl's murder (Saeed at most had a minor role). But the "arrests were made when the trial was already in its final stage and the official confirmation of these crucial arrests would have completely derailed the prosecution's case," a senior police official said. [Washington Post, 7/15/02]]
The White House expressed satisfaction with the ruling. "The Bush administration welcomes Pakistan's verdict in this matter," spokesman Ari Fleischer said, adding, "Daniel Pearl was brutally executed, and Pakistan's ... court system has now ruled. This is a further example of Pakistan showing leadership in the war against terror." [Wall Street Journal, 7/15/02] In fact, an FBI agent was one of only a "handful" to testify in favor of the prosecution, [BBC, 7/16/02] and "the government's case rest[ed] heavily on technical FBI evidence." [AP, 7/1/02] The British government also approved the verdict. [BBC, 7/15/02]
The mainstream media in the US slipped further into amnesia in their coverage. The conviction story made headlines and there was room for lengthy background information and even special background articles on Saeed [AP, 7/15/02, BBC, 7/16/02], as newspapers reported on his conversion to radicalism, the 1999 hijacking that released him and so forth. However none of them mentioned his al-Qaeda or ISI connections. [AP, 7/15/02, Washington Post, 7/15/02, CNN, 7/15/02, New York Times, 7/15/02, Wall Street Journal, 7/15/02] The verdict was generally spun to appear just. As the Wall Street Journal delicately put it, "The prosecution overcame some significant weaknesses in the case to obtain the conviction." [Wall Street Journal, 7/15/02] European coverage at least was somewhat better, frequently noticing the absence of justice. [BBC, 7/16/02, Independent, 7/16/02]
Since the trial, the spinning of the story away from Saeed and the ISI continues. On Sept. 1, 2002, the Los Angeles Times published "The Plot," a 12,000 word article detailing exactly how the Sept. 11 plot was planned and by who. Yet the ISI wasn't mentioned even once. It did however make this brief comment: "Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawasawi, an al-Qaeda finance officer also known as Sheikh Saiid, transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United Arab Emirates to the hijackers in the United States. Current status: Fugitive." [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/02] Their reference to Saeed being a "fugitive" clearly implied that the man responsible for financing the September 11 terrorists was someone other than the Saeed sitting in a Pakistani jail. Yet who is this Mustafa Ahmed, and why would he naively transfer money to hijackers using his real name? If this terrorist exists, why does the FBI continue to exclude him from their "most wanted" and "seeking information" lists? [FBI, 2/12/02, FBI Most Wanted Terrorists, 2002, FBI Seeking Information, 2/14/02] Investigators have a surveillance video of Mustafa Ahmed walking into a bank in the UAE, [Newsweek, 11/11/01] so they obviously know his real identity - yet they allow the confusion to persist.
The ISI Muzzled?
The ISI lost their puppet state in Afghanistan in the wake of Sept. 11, and they've been under great pressure since. It makes one wonder why they would have sponsored the Sept. 11 attacks. Perhaps they felt they were losing influence in Afghanistan to bin Laden, and conceived of a plot to use him, then get rid of him, while at the same time furthering their larger radical Muslim agenda. Bin Laden's influence with the Taliban rapidly grew after 1998 at the expense of the ISI, and in late August 2001 he was named commander of the Afghan army. [London Times, 8/3/02, UPI, 8/30/01] By early 2001, if not before, Pakistan had determined it had lost control of the Taliban to bin Laden. [Time, 8/4/02] Removing bin Laden would also have removed the major US objection towards the Taliban, and perhaps in the long term, it would have led to official recognition for the Taliban regime. It seems the ISI thought the US would eliminate bin Laden and let the Taliban survive, instead of the reverse. Former ISI Director Hamid Gul explained, "...You could have got everything you wanted from the Taliban. They would have been eating out of your hands. But you never talked to them, because you thought that they were not honorable." [New Yorker, 12/3/01]
The ISI may be taking a different course for now, but have they fundamentally changed? Said a Pakistani diplomat, "To remove the top two or three doesn't matter at all... The philosophy remains." [New Yorker, 10/29/01 A recent UPI editorial stated, "Al-Qaeda terrorists have long since scattered deep inside Pakistan and in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir where they enjoy the protection of the [ISI] ... The unspeakable is that Pakistan is the new Afghanistan, a privileged sanctuary for hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters and Taliban operatives. Some estimates go as high as 5,000 ... The Pakistani - al-Qaeda connection is visible to all but the geopolitically challenged." [UPI, 8/28/02] The ISI has betrayed efforts to capture these outlaws so many times that by the summer, the FBI and the Pakistan Army were no longer informing the agency about their raids in advance. Other Pakistani investigators had to build terrorist files from scratch because the ISI would not share its intelligence. [Independent, 7/21/02]
There has been widespread speculation that the September 11 attacks must have had the backing of a state intelligence agency. Said one CIA official, Bin Laden "sits in a cave in Afghanistan and he's running this operation? It's so huge. He couldn't have done it alone." [New Yorker, 10/1/01] The money trail clearly points to the ISI as that agency. Will the US let the ISI rebound and plan similar future attacks?
Just One Last Detail
If Saeed really does link the ISI to the September 11 attacks, what does that mean for the US? It so happens that there may be yet one more side to Saeed Sheikh. A long time regional expert with extensive CIA ties stated publicly in March 2001 that "The CIA still has close links with the ISI," and repeated the claim to CNN in February 2002. [Times of India, 3/7/01, CNN, 2/27/02] Probably the most revealing article on Saeed was one published by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which went even further: "There are many in Musharraf's government who believe that Saeed Sheikh's power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA. The theory is that ... Saeed Sheikh was bought and paid for." [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/02] But journalists appear not to be looking into this connection, so it's almost impossible to discern if there is any truth to these rumors. Foreigners who have tried investigating the ISI often find themselves dead like Daniel Pearl, or in the case of Christina Lamb, arrested and deported. [Telegraph, 11/11/01]
Some newspaper editors still might consider the full story of Saeed a story better left untold, lest it bring down the Pakistani government. There are fears that the Western allied President Musharraf will be replaced by Muslim radicals - especially worrisome since Pakistan has nuclear weapons. But it actually may be more dangerous leaving the situation as it is. The ISI appears to be the main instigator of Kashmiri violence (some of it planned by Saeed), which almost led to nuclear war between Pakistan and India earlier this year. Musharraf is supposed to have reformed himself and clamped down on the ISI. But, as the Independent put it, although the Western media continues to report that the ISI has been reformed, "few in Pakistan believe it." [Independent, 7/21/02] In Kashmir, Musharraf promised the US he would stop the excursions into Indian-controlled territory, but "Musharraf reneged -- or ISI did for him." The ISI continues to supervise the infiltration of "freedom fighters" into Kashmir, and continues to secretly support religious extremists financially and politically. [UPI, 8/28/02]
Exposing the ISI's Sepember. 11 role may force Musharraf to truly break the back of the ISI, just as an earlier, limited exposé led to the firing of ISI Director General Ahmad. The complete truth needs to come out. If Musharraf isn't guilty, if the ISI isn't guilty, if the CIA isn't guilty, let the evidence prove their innocence.