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Pak tried secret deal with al-Qaeda as terror group targeted India

Letters found in slain al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden’s safehouse show that Pakistan reached out to Said al-Masri.

Written by Praveen Swami , Sushant Singh | New Delhi |
March 11, 2015 12:30:53 am

TOP Pakistani politician Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother, as well as the country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had attempted to negotiate a secret peace deal with al-Qaeda in the summer of 2010, documents filed by US prosecutors in a federal court in New York last month have revealed.

Letters found in slain al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden’s safehouse show that Pakistan reached out to Said al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s number three — even as the group was beginning to expand its operations against India, the documents show.

Found by US special forces during their raid on Bin Laden’s safehouse in Abbotabad, the documents were used by prosecutors to convict Pakistani-origin British national Abid Naseer. Naseer was extradited from the United Kingdom in 2013 to face charges of having led a terror cell that planned to stage mass-casualty terror attacks in Manchester and New York.

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Bin Laden, prosecutors were able to demonstrate using the documents, was kept informed of the plot by al-Qaeda’s head of external operations, Abdirizaq Abdi Saleh, also known as ‘Saleh the Somali’.

The negotiations began, the documents show, in the summer of 2010. Al-Qaeda’s manager Atiyah Abd al-Rahman told Bin Laden in a June 2010 letter that the “Pakistani enemy has been corresponding with us and with the Tehreek-i-Taliban (Hakimullah) for a very short time, since the days of Hafiz”. Hafiz, US prosecutors told the court, was a code-name for Said al-Masri; Hakimullah to the former head of the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud.

Rahman also informed bin Laden that the CM of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif had “sent them a message indicating they (the Punjab government) wanted to negotiate with them, and they were ready to reestablish normal relations as long as they do no conduct operations in Punjab.”

The letter records, in addition, that “we received a messenger from them bringing us a letter from the Intelligence leaders including Shuja’ Shah, and others”— a possible reference to Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, then the head of the ISI.

General Pasha has been alleged to have known that the ISI was aware of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbotabad, an allegation he has denied. He is also alleged to have had contact with the 26/11 plotters, through several serving ISI personnel named by convicted perpetrator David Coleman Headley.

In the secret peace negotiations, Rahman told Bin Laden, Pakistan was informed that “we are prepared to leave you be. Our battle is primarily against the Americans”.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the feared Afghanistan jihadist network that bears his name, acted as al-Qaeda’s emissary during these negotiations, while Pakistan was represented by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen chief Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil, a shadowy terror commander notionally proscribed by Pakistan but living in freedom in Islamabad.

Even as these peace talks proceeded ahead, several of its participants were developing new terror networks targeting India. In May, 2010, just after its key negotiator al-Masri was killed in a US drone strike near Miramshah, al-Qaeda released an audiotaped message in which al-Masri claimed credit for the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune.

“February’s India operation was against a Jewish locale in the west of the Indian capital [sic., throughout], in the area of the German bakeries — a fact that the enemy tried to hide-and close to 20 Jews were killed,” he said.

David Coleman Headley told FBI that he had conducted reconnaissance at the German Bakery for Brigade 313 jihadist Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri, who was setting up an al-Qaeda unit to target India.

In 2012, Pakistan’s Daily Times reported Kashmiri had also held secret meetings with Hakimullah Mehsud-the second target of the peace effort-coordinate operations between al-Qaeda and the TTP.

India’s NIA is now prosecuting Karnataka resident Muhammad Ahmad Siddibapa, also known as Yasin Bhatkal, for planting the bomb that went off at the German Bakery. The NIA alleges that Siddibapa carried out the attack on instructions from Indian Mujahideen military chief Riyaz Ahmad Shahbandri-who, in turn, is known to have been in touch with al-Qaeda, through the Tehreek-e-Taliban.

Khalil, in turn, is alleged to have mentored the commander of the newly-formed al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent, Maulana Asim Umar — revealed by The Indian Express to be a Gujarat-born and New Delhi-raised cleric. In 2004-2006, Umar lived at the Harkat-ul-Mujahdeen’s offices near Karachi, and, according to intelligence sources, was again sighted there in December. He is thought to be in regular contact with Khalil.

From 2008 on, Umar was reported to have joined ranks with Illyas Kashmiri. Kashmiri was reported killed — for the third time — in a drone strike last year. His body, however, was not sighted.

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