Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Pakistani striptease

Pakistan has arrested yet another man said to be a high-ranking member of al Qaeda. This is starting to form a familiar pattern. The new capture is Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be third in the al Qaeda hierarchy. Bush said:

". . . al-Libbi was a top general for [Osama] bin Laden . . . a major facilitator and a chief planner for the al-Qaida network. His arrest removes a dangerous enemy who is a direct threat to America."

He is described as operations chief for al Qaeda, having taken over for captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. As usual, problems abound:

  1. The whole story of the capture of al-Libbi appears to have been made up by Pakistani authorities. Instead of a two-day gun battle at a farmhouse, it was a quick, relatively uneventful police chase in an urban area. Pakistani authorities apparently received a tip-off after American agents intercepted a mobile phone call made by al-Libbi. How, one might ask, did the Americans know that this was al-Libbi's phone? If it was a satellite phone, why was al-Libbi using a system al Qaeda must know has been compromised by the Americans? Other accounts downplay the phone and say the arrest was based on human intelligence. There are also the usual discrepancies on when he was arrested. It has even been described as a cross-dressing arrest!

  2. According to European intelligence experts, al-Libbi is not third in command in the al Qaeda hierarchy, but just a low-level operative. A former close associate of bin Laden now living in London said: 'What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying.' He was neither on the FBI's most wanted list, nor on the State Department's 'rewards for justice' program, an odd oversight if he was the main guy after bin Laden and al-Zahawari. It is possible that the Americans confused - intentionally or otherwise - another Libyan on the FBI's list, Anas al-Liby (or al-Libbi), who may be an important figure in al Qaeda, with the man Pakistan captured. The captured man was probably involved in two assassination attempts on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

  3. From Time (see also here):

    "U.S. counterterrorism officials told TIME that the CIA suspects al-Libbi was involved in a terrorist plot timed to coincide with last November's U.S. presidential election, including 'training and supporting people and planning to send operatives' who could slip into the U.S. 'He was a key operations guy,' says the source. 'His operations weren't confined to Afghanistan or Pakistan but extended into the West.'"

    They really lay it on thick, don't they?

  4. Remember how the Americans would capture some Iraqi functionary and suddenly he would be added to the deck of cards or move greatly up the deck in terms of importance? At the very least, this appears to have happened with al-Libbi. This is referred to as 'grade inflation'.

  5. Prominent Pakistani arrests tend to be announced when foreign officials are in Pakistan. Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of the U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Mike Jackson, the British chief of general staff, were both visiting Pakistan when the arrest was announced.

  6. Same guy?

Readers of this blog may remember that I've been down this road before, with the arrests of Amjad Farooqi and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The supposed capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was particularly weird. Pakistan has been engaging in what B. Raman (or here) refers to as the 'al Qaeda striptease', a process of slowly capturing or pretending to capture al Qaeda operatives as and when required to manage the relationship with the United States by pretending to assist in fighting the 'war on terror'. Now that they're down to the level of the guys who make the coffee, there must be thousands of 'high level' operatives yet to be captured before Pakistan is down to its knickers.