Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir has claimed that the head of al-Qaeda’s new wing in the subcontinent had once offered to stage an attack on American forces in Afghanistan for him, and allow him to film the “story” for his television channel.
Mir, who spoke at the Idea Exchange programme of The Indian Express on Friday, said he had met Asim Umar, chief of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in 2005, and again, for a second time, two years later. He had refused Asim Umar’s offer, Mir said.
Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a video early last month, announcing the terror organisation’s new subcontinent wing under Asim Umar.
Mir said Asim Umar was an Indian — a possibility that The Indian Express has reported investigators in India were studying.
“Asim Umar is an Indian Muslim, that’s his only qualification for which he was appointed head of al-Qaeda’s south Asia chapter,” he said. “Yes, I have met Asim Umar… I met him for the first time in 2005, I was visiting Afghanistan. In those days, the Afghan Taliban were in control of Andar district of Ghazni province. I was visiting the tomb of Mahmud Ghaznavi. Somebody there contacted me, it was a taxi driver. He asked me, ‘Oh, you come on Geo TV’. I said yes. He said ‘Amir sahab wants to meet you’. I asked him who Amir sahab was. He said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry. We will not harm you. We will give you a story’. I then asked him what kind of story he was talking about. I have never revealed it before, but today I will.
“Sometimes, we can get a very big story but our journalistic and professional norms and ethics stop us. I agreed to meet the man. So my producer, cameraman, interpreter and one guy — we were a group of four-five people — we moved towards Andar, and I met some people there. Asim Umar was one of them. They had an offer for me. They said, ‘If you stay with us, we will organise an attack on the US army and you can film that attack. It will be a big story’.
“I thought for a while and said, ‘No this is not my job. I should not become part of a criminal activity. They may kill some people’. So I refused. I said, ‘No, no. We are in a hurry, we have to go to Kabul’.
“Then they introduced me to Asim Umar. ‘Meet Ustad Asim, you can talk to him in Urdu’, they said. Umar started talking to me in Urdu. He gave me a book — when I looked at it, I saw it was written by Asim Umar himself. I still have that book, which had a message inside — ‘Hadia khuloos Hamid sahab (respectfully for Hamid sahab), arz (from) Asim Umar.”
Mir said he was surprised at the level of education Asim Umar seemed to have. “I thought these people looked like uneducated, illiterate fighters. How can they publish such a book on the history of jihad and other things? Then I started following him,” he said.
“In 2007, I met him again in North Waziristan. Then I came to know that he was forced to leave Ghazni province because he had developed differences with some local commander. The local commander had alleged that he was an Indian spy. So the Pakistani Taliban protected him and he came to Pakistani tribal area. Now he is absent. But recently I received a lot of literature written by him, both in English and Urdu. So I had one meeting with him in 2005, and one again in 2007.”
Mir, a popular and sometimes controversial television personality, is the only journalist to have interviewed Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and twice otherwise. He has also met Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban.
He has survived two assassination attempts — he said he lives with two bullets in his body. He is working on a biography of bin Laden, he said.
According to Mir, bin Laden had been in touch with Asim Umar while he was hiding out in Pakistan. “I think al-Qaeda was shattered after the death of bin Laden, but now they are regrouping. And this new south Asia chapter (under Asim Umar), it is very dangerous. We should not underestimate them,” he said.
Mir said that when he met Asim Umar in 2007, some of his colleagues said Asim was from Ahmedabad. “Then his family moved to Delhi, from where Asim Umar went to Dubai. He later went to Pakistan and then Afghanistan. He married somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, I don’t know. But he has some kids. He must be aged in his 40s. And he is famous as Ustad Asim Umar, not Maulana Asim Umar,” Mir said.