Originally Published 2003-08-07 11:20:34 Published on Aug 07, 2003
On July 31, 2003, Mr John S. Pistole, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs on ``Terrorism Financing: Origination, Organisation and Prevention``. One of the key findings he referred to was the link between the terrorists involved in the September 11 attack and Pakistan.
Pakistan and 9/11
On July 31, 2003, Mr John S. Pistole, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs on ``Terrorism Financing: Origination, Organisation and Prevention``. One of the key findings he referred to was the link between the terrorists involved in the September 11 attack and Pakistan. Though Mr Pistole chose not to divulge too many details of the FBI investigations, his conclusions were revealing.

"A continuing investigation, ``said Mr Pistole, ``in coordination with the PENTTBOMB Team has traced the origin of the funding of 9/11 back to financial accounts in Pakistan where high-ranking and well-known Al Qaida operatives played a major role in moving the money forward, eventually into the hands of the hijackers located in the US…The financial investigation also provided the first links between Ramzi Binalshibh and the 9/11 operations".

As expected, the FBI testimony provoked media speculations across the globe, especially in India where it was widely believed that terrorist elements within Pakistan, in collaboration with the ISI and the Army, were deeply involved in 9/11 attacks. Interestingly, these facts were known to the American and Indian intelligence agencies long before the FBI or the Senate Investigations into 9/11 could even begin. The Pioneer had traced several of these links in early 2002 working solely on information available in the public domain. Following the links more closely, I had discovered several connections that existed between 9/11 operatives and Pakistan which was developed into a report for the Observer Research Foundation in December last. The report, soon to be released, detailed the movements of three individuals closely involved in planning the terrorist attack on the United States of America.

Said Bahaji, a German of Moroccan origin, was one of them. He flew into Karachi's Qaid-e-Azam International Airport on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul a week before September 11, 2001. There were four other men with him. Three of them took up a room (No.318) at Hotel Embassy. Two others stayed at a house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal , a posh colony in Karachi. One of them was Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the key figures in the entire 9/11 plot.

Bahaji and his room-mates checked out of the hotel the next day after Bahaji had called a Hamburg number and emailed a note to his 21-year old wife, Nese, in Hamburg. Bahaji took a Pakistan Airlines flight to Quetta and since then has been on the Most Wanted List of the CIA and FBI. Bahaji was one of the anonymous warriors of Al Qaida. Twentysix year old Bahaji was fluent in four languages, had been in the German Army for a year and pursued a course in Computer Science at Hamburg's Technical University. He was a close associate of Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 pack of hijackers. Bahaji was one of the coordinators, facilitating false ID papers, cash, visas and transport. He networked with other al Qaida cells across the world to fine tune the operations.

Although the CIA and FBI have given much weight to Al Qaida's secret meeting at a condominium outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where, it is said, the final plans for the Hijack Attack were formulated, not much attention has been paid to the meeting at Hotel Embassy in Karachi, a week before the attack. It was, in all probability, a meeting to tie up loose ends before the countdown to the attack, especially after the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker who was caught on suspicion on August 16, 2001, by US authorities. Moussaoui was one of the key planners of 9/11. What is intriguing is the identity of the people who checked into Hotel Embassy with Said Bahaji. According to German authorities, Bahaji's three companions were Mohammad Sarwar Joia alias Patrick Joia, Abdellah Hosayni and Ammar Moula. These were fake identities. While there is information that Patrick left Karachi within a month of 9/11, Hosayni and Moula disappeared into Karachi.

Hotel Embassy had another mysterious guest during the same time Bahaji and his friends were in: An Algerian identified as Mohammed Belfatmi who too had come from Istanbul. He stayed at a room below Bahaji's and checked out soon after Bahaji and his room-mates left the hotel. Belfatmi is yet to be caught.

On September 11, 2001, a few hours before the Twin Towers were attacked in New York, one Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi landed in Karachi. A Saudi nation, Hawsawi was the finance manager of 9/11 operations. There is clear evidence that he moved several thousand dollars from a Standard Chartered Bank account in the UAE to Florida's SunTrust account operated by Atta and others. Working from Dubai, he had couriered ATM and credit cards to Atta and his group in the US for paying flight training schools, buying simulators and equipment like the Global Positioning System and for booking tickets on flights taking off from various destinations early September 11.

One man who coordinated all these activities from Karachi was Ramzi Binalshibh. Ramzi was a close associate of Atta and Bahaji and coordinated the financial transactions with Hawsawi. Ramzi, a nephew of Khaled Mohammed Sheikh (one of the operations managers of Al Qaida who first conceived the idea of hijacking aircraft and dive-bombing them into tall buildings), was a member of Atta's Hamburg cell and the only one to attend the meetings at Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 and Spain in July 2001. Ramzi was originally planned to be a part of the Atta team but he could not get a visa to enter the US. His visa application was rejected four times. Ramzi then was designated as the coordinator and sent to Karachi where he activated a dormant Al Qaida cell with the help of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other sectarian and terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.

This Karachi Cell had two primary objectives: To coordinate the September 11 attack: To figure out an escape plan after the attack. Besides the pre-9/11 activities involving Bahaji and his room-mates, (Atta and other too had passed through Karachi in December 1999 en route to training camps in Afghanistan) the Karachi Cell was busy in finding sources of funds for the operations. One of the fund raisers was Syed Omar Sheikh, the main accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case and one of the figureheads in Jaish-e-Mohammed, the banned terrorist organization responsible for several terrorist attacks in Kashmir and other areas in India. Sheikh used his contact in India, Aftab Ansari, a don from Mumbai, to collect funds. Ansari used his henchman, Asif Reza Khan to kidnap a Kolkata tycoon, Partho Pratim Burman, who paid several crores for his release. From that booty, about $100,000 was wired to Atta. Atta returned $15600 through hawala channels a few days before he dive-bombed the WTC towers in Manhattan. The money was wired to a bank in Karachi from where it was withdrawn through three ATM withdrawals within two days of the attack. The person who withdrew the money was Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.

Could these operations been carried out without the knowledge of the omnipresent ISI which surely must have kept its chief informed about the activities? The answer is certainly no. Simply because all the above linkages were drawn from news reports in the Pakistan media. It would therefore be naïve to believe that the ISI, and President Pervez Musharraf, were not aware of the activities of 9/11 plotters in Pakistan and this is what the FBI and CIA would not like to divulge. At least for the moment.

Wilson John is with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi
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