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June 17, 2011

US believes Zawahiri in Pakistan


June 17, 2011

LAHORE: With the elevation of Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri as the new al-Qaeda chief, Pakistan is likely to come under renewed American pressure for intelligence sharing about his possible whereabouts because the American intelligence community strongly believes he may be hiding somewhere in an urban locality of Pakistan, most likely in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as had been the case with Osama bin Laden.
That Zawahiri has been formally appointed the ameer of al-Qaeda was announced on Thursday through a statement posted on Ansar al-Mujahideen (Followers of Holy Warriors), an al-Qaeda linked website. Zawahiri, one of the founders of the international terror group, has played a significant role in the organisation for more than a decade as Osama’s no 2. Even before the announcement, he had been widely regarded as the de facto leader and public face of al-Qaeda.
The announcement said that the decision to appoint Zawahiri, who carries a $25 million reward on his head, was made to pay respect to the “righteous martyrs” and to honour the legacy of Sheikh Osama bin Laden. “Hereby the General Command of the Qaeda al-Jehad — and after the end of the consultations — we declare that Sheikh Dr Abu Muhammad Ayman al-Zawahiri (May God bless him) will take over the responsibility of command of the group,” the statement posted on the website said.
Zawahiri, who has described Pakistan as an American colony in his latest video message, was already considered the group’s central ideologue and one of the brains behind the 9/11 attacks. In his latest video appearance on June 8, 2011, Zawahiri vowed to avenge the death of Osama “blood for blood”.
The 28-minute video was the first statement from him to acknowledge the death of bin Laden. Looking aged, and at times angry, Zawahiri used a chopping motion with his hands and urged his followers to remember the 9/11 attacks against Americans and made a point to recall the deaths of US military personnel at the Pentagon. He

urged the youth of Pakistan to follow the lead of the youth of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria and seek to overthrow the government. The statement also said the group will not shift its policy and pledged its support to, among others, the Afghan Taliban chief Mulla Mohammad Omar.
With the death of bin Laden, who was also one of the original 22 people on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists released in October 2001, Zawahiri is now the world’s most-wanted living terrorist. Zawahiri was wanted by the US even before the 2001 attacks targeting New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. He was indicted in absentia in 1999 for the August 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, and was also considered the mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors. Zawahiri went into hiding after the US-led allied forces overthrew the Taliban regime in October 2001, in the remote region along the Pak-Afghan border, never to be seen again. However, American intelligence agencies believe that Zawahiri is hiding somewhere in Pakistan. General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, told John King on CNN on May 3, 2011, a day after bin Laden was killed in Pakistan that Zawahiri was “somewhere along the Pak-Afghan border.”
Then, the US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on May 15, 2011 that Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri was most likely hiding in Pakistan. In an interview to an American television channel, Congressman Rogers said that the US has known for years that the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders are living inside Pakistan. Rogers said he knows that the Pakistanis have disclosed US operations and held back information, but believes the killing of bin Laden may lead to more cooperation. “I hope they see this as an opportunity to be more cooperative, to be more open, to help us with other targets that we have in Pakistan that we are very interested in having apprehended and brought to justice. Zawahiri is a great example and I believe he is in Pakistan,” the US House Intelligence Committee chairman added.
According to well-informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad, the computer files and documents recovered during the bloody raid that culminated in the death of Osama revealed that he was vigorously pursuing his anti-US agenda from his Abbottabad hideout where he used to see key al-Qaeda leaders to plan and direct terrorist attacks across the globe. The scanning of the seized material further revealed that bin Laden was in regular touch with his top aides, especially Dr Zawahiri. The documents, which included a handwritten notebook of February 2010, indicated that Osama and Zawahiri were planning yet another major terrorist attack on the American soil on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, falling on September 11, 2011. He has served as the public face of al-Qaeda over the past decade, appearing in numerous propaganda tapes and even hosting an online question and answer session.
Therefore, the CIA has already marked Zawahiri as its next target and is vigorously pursuing its Pakistani counterparts to share intelligence that could help them hunt him down. A trusted aide of Osama for almost 20 years till his demise, Zawahiri is also believed to be hiding in an urban locality of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. US intelligence sleuths believe Zawahiri had shifted from his hideout in Fata to some urban locality after having escaped a US drone strike on January 13, 2006 targeting Damadola village of Bajaur Agency in Fata that killed 18 people. The drone attack was carried out on the basis of human intelligence provided by some former Pakistani intelligence sleuths, believed to be part of the Spider Group, which is being run by the CIA in Fata, primarily to gather intelligence information about the fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders as well as their activities. But Zawahiri was lucky enough to have survived the strike as he had already left the targeted building much before it was hit. In an audio message released later, Zawahiri confirmed his presence in Bajaur Agency at the time of the missile strike: “US planes launched the assault under the pretext of wanting to kill my frail self and four of my companions. However, all of us have survived the attack by the grace of Allah Almighty.”
However, believable indications of his presence in Pakistan came in the aftermath of the bloody Operation Silence, carried out by the Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army in July 2007 in Islamabad against the clerics of Lal Masjid. As Pakistani security forces took control of the Red Mosque after a fierce gunbattle, they were astonished to discover letters written by Dr Zawahiri to Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric brothers who ran the mosque and adjacent madrassa, directing them to conduct an armed revolt. Zawahiri’s Lal Masjid connection was confirmed on July 11, almost a week after the military operation was conducted, when he issued a videotape, asking Pakistanis to join jehad in revenge for the Lal Masjid “bloodshed”.
Zawahri’s four-minute address was titled “The aggression against Lal Masjid”. The video was released by al-Qaeda’s media wing, as-Sahab and subtitled in English. On August 1, 2008, CBS News reported that it had obtained a copy of an intercepted letter dated July 29, 2008, which urgently requested a doctor to treat Zawahiri. The letter indicated that Zawahiri was injured in a US missile strike at Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan on July 28. And last but not the least, following the May 2, 2011 killing of Osama in Abbottabad, American intelligence community now strongly believes that he too may be hiding somewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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