Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The courier who inadvertently led U.S. intelligence agents to Osama bin Laden also played host to high-level al-Qaida operatives and helped facilitate communication among the Sept. 11 hijackers, according to secret military documents on Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The documents obtained last month by NPR and other news organizations suggest that a man who went by the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti played a variety of roles as a close associate of the al-Qaida leader. He also was one of several people killed in the assault on bin Laden's compound early Monday in Pakistan.
Al-Kuwaiti put U.S. intelligence officials on bin Laden's track after he had a telephone conversation last year with someone the U.S. had under wiretap surveillance. The CIA then tracked al-Kuwaiti back to the walled compound in Abbottabad, an army town just two hours' drive from the capital, Islamabad, according to The Associated Press.
Al-Kuwaiti is thought to be a nom de guerre of Arshad Khan, who is believed to have bought the land for the house where bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, about 40 miles north of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
Property records obtained by the AP show Arshad bought adjoining plots in four stages between 2004 and 2005 for $48,000.
According to the Guantanamo documents, Mohammad al-Qahtani — who authorities say narrowly missed being the 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, 2001 — told interrogators that al-Kuwaiti taught him how to use the Internet so that he could communicate by email with the leader of the terrorist operation, Mohamed Atta.
Al-Qahtani said al-Kuwaiti took him to an Internet cafe in Karachi, Pakistan, and taught him how to use email, the documents show.
Al-Kuwaiti's name also comes up as the man who ran an al-Qaida guesthouse that hosted high-level al-Qaida figures, including Hambali, a key financier for the terrorist network who was sent to Guantanamo in 2006.
Even as more details emerged of the U.S. operation that ended the most intense manhunt in history, the White House was clarifying information released in the first hours after a Navy SEAL team raided bin Laden's hideout.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing Tuesday that bin Laden was not in fact armed during Monday's assault, contradicting earlier comments by John Brennan, the administration's top counterterrorism adviser.
Carney also said bin Laden's wife was shot in the leg as she tried to rush one of the members of SEAL Team Six, which conducted the raid on the compound, correcting remarks from Brennan that she had been fatally shot after bin Laden used her as a human shield.
"We provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you and through you the American public," Carney said. "Obviously, some of the information came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated upon."
CIA Director Leon Panetta told PBS's NewsHour on Tuesday that bin Laden "made some threatening moves" that "represented a clear threat to our guys" but was not more specific.
"I don't think he had a lot of time to say anything," Panetta said. "It was a firefight going up that compound. ... This was all split-second action on the part of the SEALs."
Panetta also underscored that President Obama had given the green light to kill the terrorist leader during the 40-minute operation.
"The authority here was to kill bin Laden," he said. "And obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him."
After bin Laden was shot and killed, the SEAL team quickly swept the Abbottabad compound for useful intelligence, making off with a cache of computer equipment and documents. The CIA was hurriedly setting up a task force to review the material from the highest level of al-Qaida's leadership.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the FBI was working with intelligence officers to examine evidence from the compound and that he expects names will be added to the terrorist watch list and no-fly list because of it.
The location of the compound where bin Laden is thought to have stayed undetected for six years — less than 50 miles from Islamabad and near a military training facility — has continued to raise disturbing questions.
But Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. shouldn't be too quick to cut aid to Pakistan.
Speaking on ABC's Good Morning America, Rogers said the discovery of the al-Qaida leader in a fortress-like compound near a Pakistani military base "is embarrassing to them." However, he said he didn't think the country's military or intelligence headquarters knew bin Laden was there.
Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said Wednesday that anyone who claimed his country had hidden bin Laden was "color blind."
During a visit to Paris, Gilani said Pakistan had shared intelligence with numerous countries in the fight against terrorism and had "excellent cooperation" with the U.S. "If we have failed, it means everybody failed," he said, adding that an investigation would be ordered.