Communication Follies with a Supreme Leader

Taliban Leaders Omar and Current Ldr

Just because a Supreme Leader of a hostile government has contact with a US government official doesn’t mean everything will change. Historically, we have seen this in our past and things haven’t turned out how we thought they would. Though it can be better to be speaking to an enemy than just threatening one. One can be hopeful, but actions always speak louder than words.

On August 21, 1998, a supporter of the Taliban asked Michael Malinowski, the Director of the Office for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh at the State Department if he was willing to communicate with one of the Taliban’s top leader. Malinowski stated he was always open to such communication if it was serious.

Profound changes were being undertaken during that period by the supreme leader of Afghanistan, Mullah Omar and the Taliban. In July 1998, the Taliban closed all foreign NGOs in Afghanistan which resulted in food distribution and aid disappearing. On August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda attacked two US Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had been given sanctuary by Mullah Omar. Then on August 8, 1998, the Taliban captured the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Immediately the Hazaras were brutally singled out and according to Human Rights Watch over 2,000 individuals were indiscriminately killed by the Taliban fighters.
On August 22, 1998, Malinowski in the early morning was connected to a conference call with Taliban Headquarters in Kandahar. Mullah Omar came on the conference call and interacted with a representative of the United States for the first time. Malinowski spoke of the threat posed by Bin Laden and the continued presence of Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar replied that he was open to dialogue. Malinowski suggested that open telephone lines were inappropriate and stated that it would be best if representatives meet in person. Mullah Omar suggested that the US could engage with the Taliban’s representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan.

One of the most comical things was that the supreme leader of the Taliban suggested that Congress should force President Clinton to resign. Omar warned that US strikes would be counterproductive and rally the Islamic world to Afghanistan’s side. Malinowski urged Mullah Omar to take Bin Laden in custody or expel him from Afghanistan. Malinowski cable drafted after the interaction with Mullah Omar ends with “this is a long way, however, from the Taliban doing the right thing on Bin Laden. We are still a long way from getting North Korea, Iran, and even the Taliban from doing the right thing. Mullah Omar had numerous opportunities to give up Bin Laden but continued to take a hardline stance that Bin Laden should not be expelled or extradited.

Last week the current leader of the Taliban Hibatullah Akhundzada called for direct talks with the United States to end the fighting. The Taliban still doesn’t want to negotiate with the Afghan government. Akhundzada said in a statement that “If the American officials truly believe in a peaceful end to the Afghan imbroglio, then they must directly present themselves to the negotiation table so that this tragedy the destructive effects of which mainly harm the American and Afghan people can be resolved through talks. . ..” It is almost as if the current leader of the Taliban doesn’t know why the Americans invaded Afghanistan. Early in his career, Akhundzada was a member of the notorious Promotion of Virtue and Prevention Police in Farah Province. He returned to Kandahar to take a position as a religious instructor at the Jihadi Madrasa where he had numerous interactions with Mullah Omar. He was then appointed Chief Justice of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Shariah Courts. In 2015, Akhundzada was appointed Deputy Commander of the Taliban. Then on May 25, 2016, the United States targeted and killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban. Akhundzada was elevated to lead the Taliban and Sirijuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, who is Mullah Omar’s son. These three are not going to be easy to negotiate with and will instead stake out their hardline position. Communications is just one of many steps on a much longer journey. And as President Reagan once said, “trust but verify.”

Deja Vu: Releasing Terrorists from Guantanamo Bay

Abu Zubaydah's Safe House on Canal Road

Déjà vu is the French word for already seen. Last week seemed like déjà vu again. Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay seem to be reading off the same script. Not long ago, Abu Zubadah, the master of deception to some and the poster boy for torture to others appeared before the Periodic Review Board. Abu Zubaydah in a statement read for him stated that he has no desire or intent to harm the United States. Abu Zubaydah wants to be reunited with his family and begin the process of recovering from injuries he sustained during his capture. Abu Zubaydah has some seed money that could be used to start a business after he is reintegrated into society and is living a peaceful life. Where have I heard that before. A couple weeks earlier one of Abu Zubaydah’s bomb makers had a similar story he was peddling.

After 14 years of captivity in Guantanamo, Sufyian Barhoumi, a senior Al- Qaeda bomb maker and explosives trainer now has a plan. He wants to open up a pizzeria in Algeria. Barhoumi’s family has purchased a place so that he can open up a pizzeria in Algiers. For years in Afghanistan neither terrorist spent any time with their family. Now they both want to go into business and be reunited with their families. The Obama Administration seeking to close Guantanamo Bay has cleared Barhoumi for release and may even be fooled by the master of deception.

Sufyian Barhoumi grew up in Algiers, Algeria and came from a large-middle class family. After completing high school he left Algeria and traveled throughout Europe ending up in London. He became part of Abu Qatada’s sphere of influence at the Baker Street Mosque in London. In 1999 he was recruited by Abd Al-Rahman and left for Afghanistan with a false French passport in the name of Khalid Stouf to receive training to wage jihad against the Russians in Chechnya.

Barhoumi during his training in the camps completed firearms training, learned tactical movement, navigation, artillery and mortars, and learned small unit tactics. Barhoumi was also instructed on the use of landmines and explosives. During a training accident, Barhoumi lost four fingers on his left hand after an explosion. After recovering from his injury he trained at Ibn Sheikh Al Libi’s Khalden camp from late 1999 to May 2000. Barhoumi then attempted to get to Chechnya but was unable to navigate the heavy security. Instead he moved between guesthouses in Jalalabad, Kabul and Kandahar providing instruction in bomb making and particularly remote controlled improvised explosive devices. One of the individuals he trained on improvised explosive devices was Jose Padilla. Padilla was sent by Abu Zubaydah to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who approved Padilla to undertake a “Dirty Bomb” plot in Chicago.

With the invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Barhoumi along with numerous other Arabs fled Afghanistan crossing the mountains into Pakistan. But Barhoumi wasn’t fleeing blindly into Pakistan. For he was associated with Abu Zubaydah who had connections. Once in Pakistan “people from the military helped us on the road,” according to Barhoumi. Initially he stayed at a guesthouse in Waziristan and then traveled to Peshawar and then Lahore. Barhoumi then arrived at Hameedullah Khan Niazi’s house on Canal Road in Faisalabad. He was there for ten days before the house was raided. Niazi, a local Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader operated two safe houses in Faisalabad that sheltered Abu Zubaydah’s fighters. Pakistan police didn’t arrest the LeT leader for operating two terrorist safe houses. Niazi’s huge concrete house on Canal Road was guarded by high concrete walls topped with barbed wire and had a blue steel gate leading to a carport. Barhoumi was there at the behest of Abu Zubaydah to conduct a mobile training class on remote control initiated bombs.

Common sense should dictate that neither of these two deadly terrorists ever obtain their freedom. But common sense is the last thing dictating the transfers of those being detained at Guantanamo Bay. As the Obama Administration nears the end of its time the rush to empty GTMO picks up more urgency. Recently, the Obama administration transferred 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates. Abu Zubaydah had gathered nearly thirty fighters at the Martyrs and Issa safe houses in Faisalabad and had brought in his master bomb maker to train them for an IED campaign against US military forces in Afghanistan.

In June 2004, it was recommended that Barhoumi be retained under DOD Control since it was assessed that he was a member of the Al-Qaeda network. The assessment of Barhoumi showed that he refused to participate in any interrogations in over a year and was deemed to be withholding intelligence. Barhoumi had been deceptive during numerous interrogations. Numerous detainees being held in Guantanamo including Abu Zubaydah provided details that clearly showed Barhoumi to be a senior Al-Qaeda explosives expert and trainer. In January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for prosecution. The only thing that has changed since that is the political expediency of this administration in closing the one place holding the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

Some individuals have stated that Abu Zubaydah is unstable and crazy. Abu Zubaydah may be crazy as a fox, or crazy as New York mob boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante.” Gigante, for almost three decades convinced individuals that he was crazy by walking around the neighborhood in his pajamas and a robe mumbling to himself. Not really known by his real name Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Hussain, but by his kunya, Abu Zubaydah is a master terrorist. He was not a sworn member of Al-Qaeda but was so closely associated with them. Just like some mobsters in New Jersey are not sworn members of the Mafia they are still dangerous criminals.

Abu Zubaydah for years kept a diary which was seized when he was captured. One of his diary entries from January 15, 1995, shreds light on who he really is and how he thinks.

Today is 1/15/95 ..
The place .. The Martyr’s house .. Peshawar .. Pakistan of course
I am [crossed out] sitting on the revolving chair.. Behind the office desk.. In the administration room..
Being the prince of the house; the Martyr’s house .. The center of terrorism, as it’s called ..
I think And praise be to God..
I think .. Tomorrow .. Or maybe after tomorrow .. God willing.
I will receive an official U.N card, as being a refugee in Pakistan.. Under the protection of the United Nations..
And I say to myself .. If these people knew that they are now helping the prince of the Martyr’s house, they would have drop dead from anger
Thank God .. I was able to deceive them ..

On November 30, 2001, with the fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda going full bore, Abu Zubaydah wrote in his diary that:

Yesterday, I and Sayf Al-Adl, the military official of Al-Qa’ida, and other brothers, were in a meeting with Al-Tayyib Agha, Mulla ‘Umar’s secretary, so that we can meet Mulla ‘Umar, in order to understand the situation..

Abu Zubaydah has always stated that he was not a part of Al-Qaeda. No matter if that is true, he surely engaged with multiple high ranking terrorists at the highest levels of Al-Qaeda. Abu Zubaydah interacted with such noted terrorists as Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Hafs al-Masri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Mohammad Rashid Du’ad al-Owhali, Djamel Beghal, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khallad Bin Attash, and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi among others. Among the items seized at the Faisalabad safe house was a videotape in which Abu Zubaydah tells his followers to get behind Osama Bin Laden as the leader of the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Abu Zubaydah states “We and the Sheikh are one. We have been working together for almost ten years, but we were hoping to keep this work secret.”
Abu Zubaydah wasted no time gathering a cadre of explosives instructors to train other brothers once he had escaped the fighting in Afghanistan. Abu Zubaydah planned to use them to launch a campaign of attacks against American military forces in Afghanistan using remote controlled improvised explosive devices.

January 18, 2002
With me are some brothers, some of them were instructors at Khaldun Camp, and I chose some of them myself, and some were moved by their circumstances to follow me..

Abu Zubaydah assembled those who would be the foundation of his Martyrs Brigade at two safe houses in Faisalabad. With Abu Zubaydah in the Canal Road safe house was Sufiyan Ibn Muhammed. Muhammed would be one of the primary trainers to provide explosives and electronic detonator training along with two engineers Jabran Sa’ ad Wazar and Ghassan Abdallah Ghazi al-Sharbi.

Today, 2/10/2002 AD
We moved to another house, or more precisely, two houses, divided ourselves in it, also (temporary..
And in order to arrange our matters and split from our Pakistani brothers, rather the Arabs, too, in another house, completely independent and isolated.. And even at that time, we will stay this way, unsettled, we cannot start any program..
I do not know whether I informed you, or maybe with the hectic work, I did not inform you..
I have chosen some brothers, cadres, for the military matters, especially explosives (making it), and detonation from a distance (remote control)..
I took them with me, away from the flood, one or two individuals from each military science, just like Noah, peace be upon him, did, two pairs from each being.. An instructor or two from each military subject, they are the nucleus of my future work, and I am starting from zero, I would not say another time, maybe it is the tenth..

Abu Zubaydah and his Martyrs Brigade would never get the opportunity to attack American forces in Afghanistan. In the early morning hours of March 28, 2002, a combined team of American and Pakistani forces would simultaneously raid Abu Zubaydah’s two safe houses. Zubaydah didn’t pick up an AK-47 to fight. Instead he would quickly head for the rooftop seeking to escape. Zubaydah’s Syrian and Egyptian bodyguards slowed the entry with gunfire giving their boss time to make it to the rooftop where he jumped to a neighbor’s roof. His bodyguards quickly followed and during an ensuing gun battle all three were shot. Abu al-Hasnat was killed in the gun battle on the roof. Zubaydah and his other bodyguard were seriously wounded. Abu Zubaydah and his bodyguard would both survive after receiving medical treatment. The United States brought in one of the best trauma surgeons from John Hopkins Hospital. Black sites, waterboarding, interrogations, and then sent to Guantanamo.

Déjà vu again. Another terrorist thinks they might be released from Guantanamo Bay. Abu Zubaydah’s personal representatives feel that Abu Zubaydah no longer needs to be detained. Initially Abu Zubaydah believed that he didn’t have a chance to be released. Probably because initially there wasn’t a chance he would ever be released. Why would we take the chance today that these terrorists might be a security risk to the United States and other global citizens? So that President Obama can say that he closed GTMO. Let’s not be deceived anymore. Abu Zubaydah’s own words in his diary shed light on how this terrorist thinks.

If these people knew that they are now helping the prince of the Martyr’s house, they would have drop dead from anger
Thank God .. I was able to deceive them

Déjà vu again.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday Again

Going to a park is often a fun adventure for children and an outlet for parents seeking to get their children out of the house. One such park was named to recognize a noted National Poet and the “Spiritual Father of Pakistan,” Dr. Mohamed Iqbal. The Gulshan-e-Iqbal (Garden of Iqbal) Park is a 67 acre park in the urban sprawl of Lahore, Pakistan. On Easter Sunday some families gathered in the park to celebrate Easter, others gathered with family just to enjoy a fun day at the park. With a lake, play areas, park rides at “Fun Land” and even a petting zoo, the park should have been a safe haven for families enjoying the green space and fun activities. Yet Easter Sunday would become Sunday, bloody Sunday again.

Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JA), which can be described as an associated group with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sent a suicide bomber, Salahuddin Khorasani to target and kill Christians celebrating Easter. Salahuddin Khorasani “carried out the attack on the eve of Christian festival Easter on March 27, 2016 as per his will. He has gifted his life to Allah.” The suicide bomber detonated his vest near the exit from the park near the children’s swings killing 72 and injuring over 300 individuals.

This is not the first attack against Christian targets by the Jamat-ul-Ahrar. On September 23, 2013, they conducted a suicide bombing at the All Saints Church in Peshawar. In March 2015, Jamat-ul-Ahrar sent two suicide bombers who detonated at St. John’s Catholic Church and at Christ Church in Lahore.

Today in the Garden of Iqbal Park there is a sign placed near where the suicide bomber detonated his device saying “Terrorism has no religion.” The Pakistan Government needs to do more to protect Christians in Pakistan. It comes as no surprise that terrorist groups in Pakistan have been targeting Christians. Just like the lyrics of U2’s song Sunday, Bloody Sunday once again we have families in Lahore feeling despair in their hearts with the deaths and injuries of loved ones because terrorists targeted Christians in Pakistan. Unfortunately Bono’s lyrics ring true once again.

. . . There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart
Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

But while the song is written about “The Troubles” even Ireland had a Good Friday Agreement that ended the troubles and brought peace to the conflict.